Microsoft is pushing the play button on a new music initiative to take on iTunes and streaming services, such as Spotify.
Under the umbrella of Xbox Music, Microsoft will launch a streaming service that is free on Windows 8 PCs and tablets, a music subscription service and a music store that sells albums and individual tracks (99 cents to $1.29 each).
Microsoft's music play coincides with the Oct. 26 launch of its Windows 8 operating system for computers and Windows RT for tablets and the arrival of new Windows phones later this fall.
As the service expands over the coming weeks -- from the Xbox 360 to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 -- its cloud-based connectivity will allow access to playlists and music collections across devices.
Despite Microsoft's previous attempts with its Zune devices and music player and, before that, MSN Music, Apple remains dominant with about 64% of digital music sales in the second quarter of 2012, according to market research firm NPD Group.
ITunes, Internet radio services such as Pandora, and on-demand music purveyors such as Spotify all are "strong players," but none represents a one-stop musical shop, says Xbox Music general manager Jerry Johnson. Music integration across Windows devices, he says, "really solves a consumer problem."
When Xbox Music hits the Xbox 360 video game console Tuesday as part of an overall system update, users get a free 30-day trial of Xbox Music Pass (after that it's $9.99 monthly).
Owners of computers and tablets upgraded to Windows 8 - and new Windows 8 device purchasers - will have an ad-supported free Xbox Music streaming on-demand program on board. Upgrading to the $9.99 monthly service allows ad-free streaming across devices and offline play.
Also hitting that day (Oct. 26) is Microsoft's Smartglass app that lets you move music from Windows computers, tablets and phones to the Xbox 360 to see on the TV and hear on a home stereo.
The free streaming service that appears on Windows 8 computers and tablets is "a way for Microsoft to break into the music market in a way that consumers understand," says Michael Gartenberg of tech research firm Gartner. "This looks like a pretty complete and thought-out service that encompasses the entire Microsoft ecosystem."
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