Microsoft planning subscription music service

MSN Music Store

The next contestant in the digital music subscription-model looks to be Microsoft, who'll be entering the space alongside offerings from Napster, RealNetworks and Yahoo, but who'll be aiming squarely at Apple's iTunes Music Store. In fact, they're aiming so squarely that they're talking about offering a feature that would provide subscribers with Microsoft-flavored versions of any tracks they've already downloaded from the iTMS. They want to endow the service with enhanced community aspects such as playlist-sharing, in an attempt to "replicate much of the communal appeal of file-sharing" ('cept slathered with a healthy coating of DRM, natch). It'll likely be in the form of a separate application from Windows Media Player, which is a departure for the company whose tendency has generally been to stuff all of your media right into WMP. Nothing confirmed on the pricing, but it sounds like they may even try to undercut Yahoo, whose prices are at $4.99/month prepaid for a year (or $6.99/month a la carte). Look for it to roll out later this year, and look for it to complicate the delicate balance MS has tried to strike with players like Yahoo and Napster — by simultaneously providing technology for their services as well as launching competitive services of their own.