Microsoft Launches Music Service for Xbox, Windows 8
Xbox Music offers a mix of free and paid options, as Microsoft looks to move beyond failure of Zune brand.
"There are a lot of individual services that do a good job, but today there isn't a service which can pull together the benefits of download-to-own, music subscription, or free streaming services," said Yusuf Mehdi, a VP in Microsoft's interactive entertainment unit, in a statement introducing Xbox Music.
"What we wanted to do is bring all of that value in one simple, easy-to-use service, then build some additional value on top--make it really beautiful and have it work across all your devices," said Mehdi. "We've been able to simplify the music experience in a really powerful way."
[ Windows 8 promises to synchronize all your devices on a single platform--but is that necessary? See Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS? ]
Xbox Music replaces Microsoft's defunct Zune music brand, which the company killed off last year after failing to make inroads against market leader Apple and its iTunes service.
Users of Windows 8 PCs and tablets will get access to a free, streaming music service similar to that offered by category leader Pandora. Xbox owners, meanwhile, can subscribe to a service called Xbox Music Pass. For $9.99 per month, users can listen, ad free, to any track in Microsoft's online catalog of more than 30,000 songs.
There is also an Xbox Music Store, from which consumers can purchase and download individual song tracks or entire albums. Mehdi said Microsoft has cut deals with artists and record labels that allow it to offer a broader set of music options than rivals like Apple and Google.
"We're going to power what we feel is going to be the best music experience for users of Windows 8, and it's the only operating system on a tablet that can do free streaming because of the rights we've secured," said Mehdi.
Xbox Music will leverage Microsoft's existing cloud platforms while bringing some new technologies to the online music market, according to the company. A feature called Smart DJ selects songs based on users' previous inputs. Unlike Pandora, it lets them skip tracks they don't like an unlimited number of times, and displays upcoming songs.
Microsoft said that next year it plans to add a "scan and match" feature that will allow users to add all the digital music files they own, including those acquired from third parties, to their Xbox music cloud.
Parts of Xbox Music arrive Monday on Microsoft's Xbox Live service, while other components will launch simultaneously with the consumer version of Windows 8, which debuts on Oct. 26.
Upgrading isn't the easy decision that Win 7 was. We take a close look at Server 2012, changes to mobility and security, and more in the new Here Comes Windows 8 issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Why you should have the difficult conversations about the value of OS and PC upgrades before discussing Windows 8. (Free registration required.)