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Napster 2.0 public beta to go live next week

Wherefore art thou, Roxio?

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Napster will be reborn next week, when Roxio releases a public beta test version of the online music service.

Roxio acquired Napster last November, essentially paying $5 million for the name. It also owns the Pressplay subscription-based music service launched by major labels Universal and Sony, but later offloaded to Roxio.

The new service, dubbed Napster 2.0, probably owes more to Apple's iTunes Music Service than the notorious music sharing software of old, long since shut down by the music industry's contributory copyright infringement lawsuit.

Roxio's USP the Napster brand name, familiar to millions of music lovers and computer users. Samsung is launching a Napster-branded music player for the online service hoping that the new, legal offering will pull in the punters as well as the old, not-so-legal one did.

Napster 2.0 will launch against pay-per-download services Musicmatch and BuyMusic, and subscription-based offerings like Real Networks' Rhapsody and MusicNet's band of retailers. iTunes Music Store will be up and running on Windows by the end of the year, and Dell is expected to launch its music store later this month too.

Roxio has already said Napster will offer both one-off downloads and a premium subscription service. It will almost certainly be based on Windows Media 9 technology, not the MP3 format that made its name - particularly since it has a tie-in with Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004, which launched earlier this week. Roxio has long licensed its CD burning technology to Microsoft as the basis of Windows XP's CD-R/RW functionality.

The company also claims it will launch with 500,000 songs - more than double what existing services have to offer, though Musicmatch claims it will have that number of tracks for sale by the end of the year. ®

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