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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.

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Microsoft on Sunday launched a new, digital music service it said will let users more easily hear, manage, and purchase their favorite tracks across a variety of devices, from TVs to tablets and smartphones. Xbox Music, as the service is called, is Redmond's latest attempt to make an impact in a market where past efforts have yielded little success.

"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.

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User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 1:42:12 PM
re: Microsoft Launches Music Service for Xbox, Windows 8
Ummm..."online catalog of more than 30,000 songs"??? That would be embarrasing if it were true. As a satisfied multi-year Zune pass subscriber, I have to say that figure has to be closer to something like 20 million songs. Almost everything my family and I have looked for is in the collection. Mostly it looks like a rebranding of the Zune Pass along with the addition of advertiser-based free streaming.

I would not look for an iPod like device, that was the Zune player. Now the players will be the Windows Phones (it's already in the Windows Phone 7 devices), and Windows 8 tablets and PCs.
Andrew Hornback
Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2012 | 1:13:42 AM
re: Microsoft Launches Music Service for Xbox, Windows 8
I wonder if this means that Redmond has plans for a device similar to an iPod in order to fully compete with Apple in their markets now that the Zune is dead.

This sounds like a great service, but if Microsoft decides to lock it into their platforms only, they may wake up in a few years and realize that it failed, just like the Zune.

As far as uploading all of your music to the Microsoft cloud goes - there has to be some sort of limitation to that, I would imagine... some acquaintances of mine have terabyte upon terabyte of music / content that would fall under this service.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
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