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MSN Music Returns With Download & Streaming Services

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Microsoft is something of a comeback king at the moment. In the last two months it has overcome the failure of OneCare to release the excellent Security Essentials and followed that up by ditching Vista for the altogether more pleasant experience of Windows 7. So could this make for a hat-trick?

MSN Music is back. The once wholly unsuccessful music news and downloads site closed back in 2006 has been resurrected with a new look and completely DRM-free content.

Initially returning as a beta download-to-own store, MSN Music is entirely web based and will also offer free streaming, though initially only to a limited group of 'VIP users'. A Windows Live ID is required to purchase from the site and deals have been struck with all four major music labels.

Could MSN Music be onto a winner? I'm not overly convinced. For a start just one million tracks are currently available. That sounds a lot, but given Spotify has over 6m and users often complain about missing artists that isn't as complete a figure as it might sound. Amazon MP3 also has nearly 10m tracks and iTunes offers over 20m. Visually MSN Music doesn't grab me either and basically functionality seems iffy. For example, visit using Firefox and you'll be prompted to install the Windows Media Player Firefox plugin every time, whether you've installed it or not. Bugtastic.

Another bump in the road is Microsoft choosing a 'credits' payment system. As it stands one credit buys a track and 10 credits buy an album. A pack of 10 credits costs £7.99. Needlessly convoluted? I'll say so. Speaking of which all albums download in zip files and they come in a mixture of MP3 and WMA formats at unknown bitrates. MP3 is obviously ubiquitous, but WMA is far from it with many devices, including iPods and iPhones incompatible. Re-ripping newly purchased downloads, not my favourite past time.

Despite all this the rebirth of MSN Music is in its infancy and never rule out the muscle of Microsoft. My feeling though? Hat-tricks are a pretty rare occurrence...

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MSN Music

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