Microsoft is not in the habit of giving things away (though I will
admit the company's Outlook.com is a pretty robust free e-mail
service), so I was understandably surprised the other day to learn
that Xbox Music is
now free to all comers
The service represents Microsoft's attempt to compete with the
likes of Pandora, Spotify, and Apple's upcoming iRadio. When it
launched late last year, it was limited to users of Xbox game
consoles and Windows 8 PCs and devices--the idea being that it
would help drive customers to one or the other.
But earlier this week, Microsoft opened the floodgates to
include all computer users, meaning pretty much anyone with an
Internet connection and Web browser. (Case in point: I tested the
service on my Windows 7 system running Google's Chrome
And just what does Xbox Music offer? Unlimited streaming from
a library of over 30 million songs. You'll have to listen to
the occasional commercial, but that's to be expected when no money
is changing hands.
Contrast that with Spotify, which also offers free streaming
for desktop users--but requires you to install client software.
That's an extra hassle I can live without, and I actually find the
Spotify program a little user-hostile. Xbox Music, at least when
accessed inside a browser, offers refreshing simplicity.
Another refreshing thing is that Microsoft doesn't constantly
beg you to upgrade to an Xbox Music Pass, which is what you'll need
if you want ad-free listening and support for Android and iOS
devices (the company just released new apps for each). The price
for that: a competitive $9.99 per month or $99.99 annually.
Surely there must be some catch to all this, right? As I said
before, Microsoft isn't in the habit of giving away the store. So
here it is: the unlimited free streaming expires after six months.
From there you're limited to just 10 hours per month.
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That's March's problem. For now, I encourage you to check out
Xbox Music and listen to your heart's content.Veteran technology writer Rick Broida
is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his
money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC
World and Wired.