MP3tunes launches music locker service

MP3tunes, a company created by MP3.com founder Michael Robertson, earlier this week launched an unlimited online digital music storage service, called Oboe. The service costs US$39.95 per year and lets customers backup and consolidate their music files and also stream their music to various computers.

Users install Oboe Syncsoftware on multiple Macintosh OS X, Microsoft Windows or Linux computers. The software scans the computers and uploads all music files to the online storage locker. The online storage locker combines music from the multiple computers and then syncs the contents of the locker to all the user's computers. The locker can store MP3, Windows Media and iTunes files.

For now the service, announced Wednesday, only works on computers but by the end of the year MP3tunes plans to publish Oboe APIs (application programming interfaces) so that other devices, like mobile phones, game consoles or PDAs (personal digital assistants) can be made capable of synching with or streaming music from the online storage locker.

A plugin lets iTunes customers access Oboe from their iTunes software to make it easier for them to add their iTunes music to the locker.

File format and DRM (digital rights management) incompatibilities put some limits on the offering and Robertson's vision. "I want a world where you can play your music on products from any vendor and even across vendors," Robertson wrote in his blog. However, that world doesn't exist today.

Music that users purchase from the iTunes store, for example, is protected by the iTunes DRM and can only be played on a device with iTunes software. When Oboe users view their list of music from their online storage locker, songs that have the iTunes DRM will be listed in italics and can't be played from Oboe's Web-based interface on a computer that does not have iTunes. "We don't adjust the DRM," Robertson said. "If it has restrictions going in it will going out."

So far, he said customers are excited about the simple, low-cost pricing plan. "One big wave of first users are simply users who want to backup their iTunes music," he said, noting that without such backup, if a user's machine crashes the music purchased from the iTunes store is gone forever. "It's worth 40 bucks as a bit of insurance," he said.

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