Microsoft has relaunched its previously-shuttered MSN Music download store in the UK, which offers album and single-track downloads from all four major labels. Microsoft says the store is "large and competitively priced".
As well as purchasable tracks, Microsoft hopes to differentiate its service by offering playlist creation, artist bios and discographies, and editorial content from the MSN Music channel. All tracks downloaded will be free of DRM, and users can choose between getting an MP3 or a WMA file.
To use the store, customers will need a Windows Live ID to log in. From there, you have to buy credits - 10 will cost you £8. A "standard" single (again, unclear if this includes B-sides, or just refers to single tracks) will cost 1 credit, and a "standard" album will cost 10.
In the same release, Microsoft says: "As part of the service, free music streaming will be tested on a limited basis". It's not clear what that means - whether there'll be Spotify- and We7-style adverts supporting the content, and whether the streamable tracks will be just previews or queueable in the interface.
We're trying to find out more about this one, but for now the FAQ suggests that it's a very limited offering that employs Windows Media Player to deliver 30-second previews of tracks before you download them. That's not exactly revolutionary, and the press release seems to suggest more, so we're digging deeper into this one. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: The streaming service is confirmed to be more than just a 30-second set of previews, for some users, anyway. It's a full-on competitor to Spotify and We7, but employs display ads, rather than audio ads - which could be very attractive to those who want to leave it on in the background.
It supports playlists, though you can't share those lists with other users like you can on other services. For now, though, it's a closed beta that only a few thousand users will have access to. We're in the process of gaining access right now and will give you the lowdown as soon as we're in on it.