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Microsoft set to launch MSN Music store

Microsoft is set to enter the online music fray with the launch of a test version of its MSN Music store and release of Windows Media Player 10.

The software manufacturer is also slated to provide more details about the availability of portable media centres - devices that run a slimmed-down version of Windows and can play back audio and video.

The first portable media centre from Creative Technology is expected to be available this week.

While portable media centres will compete with Apple Computer's iPod on some fronts, industry watchers consider the Microsoft-based devices a new category of media players.

Portable media centres are larger than iPods and also play back video, while iPods only play audio.

The MSN Music store is expected to offer songs from all major music companies and to be accessible from within Windows Media Player as well as through a web browser.

The store will compete against Apple's iTunes and other online music services such as RealNetworks' RealPlayer Music Store and Rhapsody service.

Ahead of Microsoft's launch, RealNetworks lowered prices in its download store to $0.49 (£0.27) per song as part of a special promotion. The company said it sold over one million songs in a week, the highest number of songs sold in a week in its store.

Microsoft has been working on its music download service since last year. Company executives have said that the store will not be a money-making service, but is something the company has to offer to for its range of services to be complete.

Songs on the MSN Music store are expected to cost $0.99 each, matching Apple's iTunes price.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service


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