September 1, 2004 1:38 PM PDT

Microsoft opens MSN Music store

Microsoft on Wednesday released a beta version of its highly expected online music download service, in hopes of unseating Apple Computer's dominance in the hot market.

The software giant quietly raised the curtain for its MSN Music Web site, which offers song downloads for 99 cents. The store also has a home in Windows Media Player 10, which is slated to launch on Thursday.

MSN Music will enable people to download tracks onto their hard drives and onto portable devices that support the Windows Media digital audio format. Unlike Apple's iTunes, the MSN store does not require users to download a separate software program to access the music lineup.

In the coming weeks, Microsoft plans to add features into MSN Music, such as expanding its library to 1 million songs and tighter integration with search. The company said it expects a full release of MSN Music in October.

MSN corporate vice president Yusuf Mehdi said during a press briefing earlier this week that the company's move into online music is less about getting into the retail business and more about taking advantage of digital music's popularity to benefit Microsoft's grander ambitions, such as selling premium services and bolstering its Windows operating system.

"The revenue (potential) is not from the sale of music," Mehdi said. "It's about helping to drive search, MSN and Windows."

One hallmark of MSN Music is its integration into other marquee services, such as the Windows Media player and MSN's Web portal, Web search engine and instant messaging. Here are some integration examples:

• Windows Media: The new version of Windows Media 10 will let people buy tracks through its interface. The software will also offer third-party music stores, such as Napster.

• MSN: Customers can visit an MSN Web site to buy and download tracks directly onto their hard drives. Microsoft will wrap the site into its online advertising and into paid search links provided by Yahoo's Overture Services division.

• Search: As Microsoft builds its answer to Google, it will eventually embed links to buy music in Web search results. For example, someone searching for "OutKast" on MSN Search will see links to buy songs and albums at the top of the results page. The feature will not launch with Thursday's beta. The MSN Music page will also have a feature to search for songs in its library.

• MSN Messenger: There will be no immediate integration with the instant-messaging software, but there are plans for this, executives have said. Microsoft hopes MSN Messenger users will be able to listen to songs at the same time as their buddies and be able to buy the tracks, Mehdi said. Microsoft also wants to let people listen to other playlists during instant-messaging sessions and is trying to secure licenses with the record labels to allow that.

One feature missing from MSN Music is a subscription music service, in which people would pay a flat fee to rent songs. Mehdi declined to say whether MSN plans to launch such a service, but said any such project would incorporate its Janus copy protection software to allow song transfers onto portable devices.

All Windows, all the time
Microsoft's entry into digital music sales is part of a curious path taken by the software giant. Industry analysts and executives consider Microsoft's full-blown effort to build its own music service as both a defense against Apple iTunes' dominance in the market and an offensive push to transform Windows into a digital media hub.

Ideally for Microsoft, Windows would be used by people to store an array of digital files such as songs, photos, videos and feed them into televisions, stereos and personal media devices.

Apple's iTunes success poses a threat to Windows, as its popularity could help it become a preferred platform for digital media. Many analysts compare today's music battle with Microsoft's war against the Netscape Web browser, which was seen as a challenge to Windows. Microsoft feared that software engineers would gravitate to developing applications on Netscape, thus circumventing Windows. The same possibility with iTunes is throwing a shadow over Microsoft's media hub plans for Windows.

The importance of the initiative has reached the highest levels of Microsoft, with Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer pushing for a quick release of MSN Music. Mehdi brought back former trench-mates from his days in the browser wars to spearhead the initiative, such as Hadi Partovi, who provided a deposition during Microsoft's antitrust trial; and Rob Bennett, who worked on marketing for Internet Explorer.

9 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
I am laughing at Microsoft
This site is doesn't meet with expectation at all. iTunes and the Apple music store is a real application. You don't have to remember web links, and it isn't another confusing, send you all over the web, nightmare.

Maybe tech geeks get this, but I assure you, the vast majority of actual people buying music will prefer the application approach that Apple has taken. Mark my words, this is going to go no where. Napster's application is a joke, but at least it is an application, not a web page.

We have the internet, but that doesn't mean everything should be based in web pages. We want real software, but it should be internet / networked, which iTunes is.

A company with over fifty billion in cash reserves couldn't do better than a sloppy web page? Un-f'n-believable.

-Alex Alexzander
Posted by Alex Alexzander (198 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Stupid is as stupid does
First off READ THE SUMMARY OF THE ARTICLE.

Say it with me. _BETA_

Second when has MS ever had a slam dunk out of the gate. NEVER. This is a company with 40 BILLION in the bank. They can build a working music store over the next 5 years and slowly eat away at Apple's customers. This is how MS works. Its how their competitors are lulled into a false sense of security because when they see what V1 has to offer they laugh. Let me ask you: Is Netscape laughing anymore?
Rule number one when dealing with your enemy and esp when dealing with a scum bag of a company like MS: NEVER underestimate your enemy.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Link Flag
It is integrated into the Windows Media Player
So the article didn't really convey this too well, but it does say that you can use it without having to download their player. However, if you download the windows media player 10, it is tightly integrated and offers a much better experience in my opinion than napster. Of course, I still think iTunes does the best integration of service and player.
Posted by msnomore (4 comments )
Link Flag
No Download Required for MS Store? Huh?
Your article contains the misleading statement:
"Unlike Apple's iTunes, the MSN store does not require users to
download a separate software program to access the music
lineup." Do you mean Windows users will not have to download
the new Windows Media Player in order to use the Microsoft
music store? Highly improbable. Also, buyers of HP computers
don't have to download iTunes anymore. Please get your facts
straight.
Posted by (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Doesn't work with Mozilla Firefox on Mac
I assume it works with IE, but I am not going to risk trying it.
Posted by scottainsf (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Translation: Expect more slime ball tactics from MS.
This from a company that never learned a DAMN thing from the antitrust trial. So I'm willing to bet hard cash Apple is readying an anticompetitive practice LS.
As I've told my friends when the AT trials wrapped up. See you guys again in about 10 years. Never thought it would be this soon.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How about fixing IE first.
Wait another 2 years for a web browser from Microsoft, while the current version support for web standards is riddled with bugs. This is the result when Microsoft chushes the compitition. Lets hope this one doesn't catch on.
...and please don't even think any of this will work on a Mac.
Posted by ralph spoilsport (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Digital hub & music rentals...
To use a Microsoft app to manage my digital hub? No thanks I
dread the day my TV would turn blue with a warning message
and I would have to "reboot" my amp in order to listen to music.
Regarding the media rental, I see it as an opening for "hackers"
to post a "fix" in order to turn the rental into a permanent
purchase. Also Apple offers a multi-platform solution. Knowing
Microsoft I will be forced to upgrade both software and hardware
every few years in order to enjoy what I rightfully own. No
thanks!
Posted by guye (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
sorry Bill, I use Windows but I like iTunes too way better
I use multple OSs and I love iTunes on Windows (or Mac) and
after giving the MSN Music Store a good look over I have
several gripes:

1. This store doesn't let me use my Mac, I'm as forced to a
Windows box as Gates says iPod users are forced to use the
iTunes music store. Give me a FREAKING break Bill. Don't
preach OPEN when you are the most closed Windows-self
minded person on the planet. Apple is committing no more
sin than Microsoft on this account.

2. MSN MS is just plain not that interesting and inviting when
compared to iTunes. Lot's of interface design errors in my
opinion as a professional web designer i think the site is
rather fine but iTunes is simply outstanding!

3. MSN MS is really just a website at the moment. I like the
integration of iTunes and the store in one application
different than my Web browser. I think this makes so much
more sense for multiple reasons.

Given how much better iTunes is over MSN MS and the fact
that if I want to use my iPod (and a Mac sometimes) I have not
choice but to give up the MSN MS for now. What am I missing
for doing so? Absolutely nothing at the moment.
Posted by Anthony Frausto-Robledo (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.