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MSN Music in Beta Release

As is usual in the tit-for-tat marketing war between Microsoft and RealNetworks, Microsoft followed up RealNetworks' big announcement of a subscription music service, with a beta release of its own music listening service.

The music service found at music.msn.com, only offers streaming at this point, avoiding the legal mess downloadable music still finds itself in. According to a Microsoft spokesperson, "MSN Music is covered by existing statutory laws.Therefore, MSN Music can legally play an array of music without needing to have explicit label arrangements. We are working with all five of the major labels as well as independent labels."

But analysts predict that this is only the beginning: "For now, MSN Music is only an audio webcast, but it represents a solid stake in the ground, to leverage the traffic from MSN and ultimately to sell downloads," said Steve Vonder Haar, a Yankee Group analyst.

The webcasting service that MSN is introducing is similar to many existing services, offering various channels of streaming audio. However, with the help of Mongo Music, a startup that Microsoft acquired last year, the service offers a little something different.

The company refers to it as "sounds like" technology because it recommends songs to the listener based on the musical attributes of the listener's favorite songs. The technology, which was developed by Mongo Music, works by matching songs that are grouped and classified based on human, as well as electronic analysis, of the music.

Despite the twist on how songs are recommended, the service is not really breaking any new ground. But according to Vonder Haar, by association with the major portal MSN, the music service will get traffic merely by default, "and it will likely expose users that were not even aware of such technologies."

In related music news, BowieNet (www.davidbowie.com), David Bowie's Internet company, is getting in the steaming game on Thursday with the launch of BowieRadio. The service will stream from a wide collection of Bowie material, and has plans to roll-out non-Bowie music stations as well.

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