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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 September, 2004, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
Microsoft launches iTunes rival

Singer Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys is one of the artists whose songs are available
Microsoft has launched a music-downloading service in the US to rival Apple's iTunes and other providers.

The software giant has released a preview version of MSN Music, which allows users legally to download songs for 99 cents (0.55) each.

Whole albums will be available for $9.99. About 500,000 songs will be initially available, with more added on a weekly basis, Microsoft said.

It did not say when the service would be available outside the US.

Apple's iTunes is already available outside the US, competing with providers such as Napster.

We are offering what we believe is the largest and highest quality catalogue of legal music on the internet
MSN vice president Yusuf Mehdi

Microsoft's entry into the download market could herald a much wider take-up of download music, analysts say. The company also hopes its music service will draw more users to its web portal and thus enable it to increase advertising revenue.

Microsoft said it hoped to "bring digital music to the masses", and that it had "built a better service than the Apple service".

Tough chase?

MSN vice president Yusuf Mehdi said songs on MSN Music were encoded at a higher bit rate than Apple's standard format for iTunes, meaning that these songs should have better sound quality.

A digital music player from Creative

"[We are] offering what we believe is the largest and highest quality catalogue of legal music on the internet, available on the broadest selection of portable devices," he said.

Microsoft expects to launch the full version of MSN Music later this year.

Users will be able to access it through the company's MSN website and also the latest version of its Windows Music Player.

Analysts believe it will take Microsoft time to catch up with iTunes, saying users of Apple's service and other current providers of legal downloads are unlikely to switch.

"It's the people who haven't started doing music downloads yet who are most likely to get interested [in Microsoft's service]," said analyst Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research.

"They'll take the market from behind. It's not the leaders they'll go after, it's the followers."


MSN versus iTunes
MSN Music iTunes
Cost to download song 99 cents (55 pence) 99 cents
Compatible music players More than 70 Microsoft devices Apple iPod or HP clone
Number of songs available 500,000, rising to one million over coming weeks One million
Bit rate (sounds compressed at higher rate in theory of higher quality) 160 128
Burn limit Downloaded song can be played on up to five different computers and burned to CD up to seven times Downloaded song can be played on up to five different computers and burned to CD up to seven times
Transfer limit Downloaded song can be transfered to unlimited number of portable audio devices Downloaded song can be transfered to unlimited number of portable audio devices
Downloads bought so far New service 125 million




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