MSN adds music and 'sounds like' search

MSN Music, online in a test version, offers streaming media, but no downloads, the company said Wednesday in a statement.

The announcement comes two days after Microsoft's rivals RealNetworks and America Online teamed up with major record labels to start an online music company.

The new channel at MSN builds on Microsoft's existing online music offerings at WindowsMedia.com, which besides streaming music also offers movie trailers and a selection of songs for download.

Microsoft touted the "sounds-like" search technology of MSN Music in its announcement. A computer program and MSN musicologists, dubbed "groovers," power this feature intended to let the users "easily discover new music."

MSN Music offers many stations with music grouped into more than 20 music styles, and more than 200 sub-styles, according to Microsoft. It is not possible to listen to a particular song on demand. This is much like what has been offered in the past by WindowsMedia.com and competing services like AOL's Spinner.com, Yahoo Broadcast from Yahoo, and Launch.com from Launch Media.

A large chunk of the WindowsMedia.com content, however, comes from third party sites. Behind the scenes at WindowsMedia.com and at MSN Music is technology from MongoMusic, which Microsoft acquired last year. "Although the two sites might look similar, we see WindowsMedia.com as a technology platform to showcase the features of the Windows Media Player. MSN Music is the Web destination for consumers to find, discover, and listen to music," explained a spokesman for Microsoft.

In the future MSN Music will be expanded to offer personalised content and subscription services, Microsoft said.

Earlier this week AOL Time Warner and RealNetworks formed an online music joint venture with Bertelsmann and EMI Group. MusicNet plans to provide technology and license music for use in online services such as downloads. MSN's Web portal has 230 million unique users per month, according to Microsoft. The company's network of sites is second only to AOL Time Warner Inc.'s network of sites for number of visitors, according to market researcher Jupiter Media Metrix.

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