Microsoft to take on Apple's online music store

SEATTLE - Microsoft, hoping to take a bite out of Apple Computer's highly popular online music service, is gearing up to launch its own website to sell songs over the Internet.

With tomorrow's planned debut, the software maker will be the latest competitor in a market experts say is still in its infancy - but one that is expected to grow considerably in the coming years.

Microsoft has a formidable foe in market leader Apple, which boasts both the popular iTunes music store and the iPod music player.

The landscape also is dotted with plenty of smaller services, including RealNetworks' Rhapsody and Roxio's Napster. But none of those has managed to capture hearts and minds like Apple.

'One company matters here, and that's Apple,' said Forrester Research principal analyst Josh Bernoff.

The stakes are high for Microsoft because the software behemoth is eager to establish its Windows Media format as the standard for copyright-protected digital music and video distribution. The popularity of Apple's products, which use different technology standards, could derail those plans.

'iTunes is a big threat to them,' Mr Bernoff said.

Microsoft declined to provide more details of its offering ahead of the official launch, including whether it would match Apple's standard price of 99 US cents (S$1.70) per song.

Mr Bernoff thinks it would be a considerable challenge for Microsoft to beat Apple in the online music market. But if Microsoft is able to execute the plan well, he thinks the company stands a good chance of becoming the second most popular service within a year.

Microsoft has come from behind many times and still managed to dominate, thanks to its broad reach with products like Windows and ability to catch-up quickly. -- AP

Source: The Straits Times