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Microsoft readies MP3-killer digital music format

MS format offers better audio quality, twice the compression

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Microsoft will release its own alternative to the MP3 digital music format next month. The new format, MS Audio 4.0, is believed to offer better sound quality than MP3's near-CD reproduction and twice the MPEG-based format's level of compression. According to sources cited by MP3 distributor MP3.com, Microsoft's entry into the downloadable music business will contain the anti-piracy features that MP3 is usually criticised for lacking. MP3.com said it had received contradictory information from sources as you MS Audio 4.0's e-commerce features, but it's hard to imagine the format not doing so. The company last week announced a major attempt to build its credibility as a supplier of e-commerce systems, a move which included a $15 million investment in Reciprocal, a developer of digital rights management tools (see earlier story). The format will initially only be supported by Windows Media Player, which could limit its acceptance, but one source claimed Microsoft is "not looking at this as a means to extend their world domination. They're just providing you with another alternative". "They're not trying to squeeze out anybody," the source claimed. Microsoft has apparently already been talking to major record labels to negotiate the provision of content in the new format and its support in general. If it's had some co-operation -- and the claim that it's preparing a demo CD containing ten hours of Audio 4.0-encoded music suggests it has -- this marks a turnaround for the music industry, which has always viewed Microsoft's interest in digital content with extreme suspicion. In any case, the format's future probably depends more on to what extent it can be integrated into the Secure Digital Music Initiative. ®

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