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Geeks and overachievers at the prestigious Stanford University are to be offered access to more than one million online songs hosted by Yahoo! Music. But almost a quarter of the students are excluded, since the service doesn't work on Mac computers.

A year-long pilot program will allow 18,000 graduates and undergrads to play and download music for free, thanks to the support of "a mystery backer," says the University. From October 1, 2006, reduced-rate subscriptions apply.

Stanford is the latest university to phase-in a legal online music service, although university officials have denied this is an attempt to get the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) off of their backs. Others, like Cornell, are going over to Yahoo! Music’s reborn rival Napster - with mixed results.

[See Students refuse to buy a single song from Napster ]

According to the Stanford Report, unnamed representatives of the recording industry have, in the past, "warned some Stanford-network users about their file-sharing activities."

Susan Weinstein, university director of business development, said: "Of course we hope that students will use this robust, easy-to-use alternative to illegal file sharing, but we also think it is just a great service, giving students access to a compelling music experience," Weinstein told the Report.

The university is, like Cornell, taking steps to ensure a fifth of its student population will be excluded from participating in its music service. Yahoo! Music is only available for machines running Windows Microsoft’s 2000 and Windows XP operating systems, not the Mac favored by a hard core of students. According to Stanford, 78 per cent of undergraduates use Windows-based machines.®

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