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In a move designed to win a larger slice of the digital music market, Real Networks is to make its music library available to any user with a web browser.

Previously Real Networks had required users to download a special software application in order to access its music, but now anyone will be able to browse its one million track-library through the re-branded Rhapsody.com website. The new service also marks the first time that Rhapsody will be available to Mac and Linux users.

With the new service, which was released in beta - to US users only - on Monday, consumers can stream up to 25 on-demand songs per month for free, while Rhapsody subscribers can stream an unlimited number via the new Rhapsody.com beta site. Users will not need to download the firm's PC jukebox application to avail of the new service, although if they want to purchase the tracks they will need to download the Real software.

Along with the Rhapsody.com service, Real is also launching its Rhapsody web services initiative, which will enable third party websites to access the Rhapsody music library via the web.

"With Rhapsody.com, we're bringing the jukebox-in-the-sky to every internet user in America," enthused Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks. "We're also laying the foundation to weave music into the fabric of the internet with our Rhapsody web services initiative."

Up until recently the software-based platform has been successful and favoured by digital music providers such as Apple with its iTunes software. However, in recent times companies like Time Warner's AOL and Napster have indicated their intention to make the move online.

This latest move by Real Networks follows its $761m legal settlement with Microsoft in October where the software giant agreed to allow Rhapsody users to access music via MSN Messenger, a decision that is also likely to help Real expand its audience reach.

Copyright © 2005, ENN

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