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NEW YORK ( -- Microsoft Corp. today launched its beta version of MSN Music, a free service on MSN that
enables consumers to sample their choice of 22 different music styles and 100 sub-genres.

The service, which eventually will become a paid subscription-based service, marks the first phase of MSN's online music strategy.

Follows Real Networks launch
The new service comes just two days after a consortium that includes Real Networks, AOL Time Warner, Bertlesmann AG and EMI Group debuted MusicNet, a vehicle for distributing tracks to retail music Web sites (, April 2). Members of the MusicNet venture are also in discussions with Napster, also a Bertlesmann partner, to try to get the music-sharing service to participate.

MSN product manager Sarah Lefko would not comment on when MSN Music will start charging users.

"It's a free service today, in the future, we'll work with [music] labels to provide a subscription-based service to consumers," she said.

Also in the future, music aficionados will be able to download their favorite tracks. Microsoft's online music venture is supported by technology from, which is currently incorporated into MSN.

Ms. Lefko bills MSN Music as a new music channel and service on MSN in which consumers can choose various genres ranging from heavy metal to rap to pop to folk. Tracks are streamed onto PCs, and listeners can access news about the artists, check tour schedules, top 10 lists and other information. The service aims to let consumers tailor music to their preferences, such as by artist, mood or genre.

Best Buy Co. and are among the retailers advertising on and promoting the site. Best Buy currently sells MSN Internet service through its stores.

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