RealTime IT News

Can MusicMatch Trump iTunes for Windows?

Digital music software firm MusicMatch on Monday hopped aboard the paid music download train, rolling out a music store for PC users with relaxed usage rules.

The San Diego-based MusicMatch, which already markets a popular music player, on Monday launched a pay-as-you-go store that piggybacks on the successful business model of Apple's iTunes service. MusicMatch is hawking a library of more than 200,000 tracks for download at 99 cents each with liberal portability and burning rights. Full albums will be available for sale at $9.99.

The company said its subscription-free service -- called MusicMatch Downloads -- is the first service on the PC that allows the purchase and download of digital music "with no complex, restrictive usage rules."

MusicMatch will allow customers to play tracks on up to three PCs simultaneously and transfer them to Windows Media 9 Series-supported music players. Tracks can be burned to CDs, but the same playlist may only be burned up to five times. Apple's iTunes, which is mulling a PC version before Christmas, offers the same usage rules except that the limit is set at ten burns.

The MusicMatch move trumps plans by Roxio's and, more recently, Dell Computer to launch music download stores for PC users. Online retail giant Amazon.com is also in advanced stages of planning for its own offering.

Another competitor, BuyMusic, already has a PC-based store that offers 79-cent downloads but strict usage rules related to portability and burning have hurt the company's efforts at competing in the crowded marketplace.

Big-name firms like RealNetworks and America Online already have digital music services that offer downloads in the range of 99 cents per song. RealNetworks' Rhapsody service has a subscription-free option and Roxio's Napster will offer unlimited a la carte downloads alongside a subscription option.

Still, MusicMatch believes it has a leg up on the competition because of licensing deals with some 30 independent labels in addition to the majors. At launch, MusicMatch will offer approximately 200,000 songs for download from the five major labels and more than 30 independents. By year-end, the company plans to have 500,000 tracks available.

Like BuyMusic, MusicMatch is relying entirely on technology from Microsoft . Downloads will be provided as 160-kilobits-per-second Windows Media files and can be played on a range of digital audio players. The service is also tied exclusively to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, a feature that is sure to rankle users who use alternative browsers like Opera or Mozilla.

MusicMatch Downloads is available only in the U.S. and requires the MusicMatch Jukebox 8.1 software.

The privately held firm has integrated the Web store with Musicmatch Radio to allow listeners to purchase tracks directly from the music player. It has also added a nifty personalization tool that lets users find artists, albums and tracks that match their personal taste.