Microsoft to make Web music

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Microsoft is breaking into the online music biz, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software behemoth is expected to unveil plans Wednesday for the first public test of MSN Music, a free Web-based service intended to help consumers find new songs and artists. As with some other Web services, users can search to find recordings that sound like a song or an artist they know, or have a particular mood or other aspects. But users won't be able to download and keep them. So Microsoft won't need to negotiate copyright licenses with major recording labels. Microsoft's announcement comes two days after the unveiling of MusicNet, a new joint venture of AOL Time Warner Inc., Bertelsmann AG, EMI Group, and RealNetworks Inc., which plans to sell technology and licensed music to others seeking to sell downloaded music through paid subscriptions.

Such services are a major focus for companies trying to create legal alternatives to Napster. And it is clear Microsoft doesn't want to remain behind two major rivals, AOL and RealNetworks, in subscription services.

"We are absolutely interested in pursuing that," said Bob Visse, a Microsoft group product manager with MSN Music. "This is the first step."

MSN Music is based around technology from a Silicon Valley company called MongoMusic Inc., which Microsoft bought last year. Staff music enthusiasts -- dubbed "groovers" -- listen to large numbers of recordings and categorize them to create a database that can respond to specific requests. Users, for example, might ask for songs that sound like "Bad Love" by Eric Clapton, or for blues songs with flashy guitar and a gritty vocal track.

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