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Ad-supported SpiralFrog finally launches music site

More than seven months behind its launch date, the once-heralded start-up overcomes internal strife and is finally ready to battle file sharing.

Earlier this year, SpiralFrog looked like a goner after infighting triggered an executive exodus.

But the company that made a splash last summer by promising to offer free, ad-supported music is finally ready to launch. Founder Joe Mohen confirmed on Tuesday to CNET that SpiralFrog has quietly invited a select number of users to test a beta version of the site.

Mohen said SpiralFrog will offer 700,000 songs at launch and be the first ad-supported site to offer video for download. He estimated that SpiralFrog will be ready for a public launch sometime before the end of the year.

"We're offering a high-quality music experience free to consumers and supported by advertisers," Mohen said. "We think the primary reason to use the site will be to discover new music."

SpiralFrog burst onto the music scene by presenting a possible solution to piracy. Music would be offered free to anyone willing to sit through some advertising. The pitch to users: no more worries about music-industry lawsuits or spyware.

Though the company had yet to launch or earn a penny, the media jumped all over the story.

But then SpiralFrog missed its December launch date. Soon after, CEO Robin Kent walked out following a rift with Mohen and the board. Kent's executive team soon followed, and to many observers, SpiralFrog's free-music model looked like a failed experiment.

Eight months later, Mohen said the site is ready to compete.

"Our competition is piracy," Mohen said. "This is going to be a new stream of revenue for record companies and artists and a legal alternative to LimeWire and other illegitimate sites."

The company plans to advertise to consumers in an unobtrusive way, Mohen said. Downloads take about 90 seconds, and during that time, users will see a range of content where ads will be included.

SpiralFrog users can play songs on their PCs or any Windows Media-compatible player, Mohen said. The site's music is not compatible with iPods, however.

Also, the site has a relatively small music library. Only Universal Music Group, the largest of the six top record labels, has agreed to a licensing deal with SpiralFrog. This means SpiralFrog is offering 700,000 songs while most of the top music services, such as Apple, Yahoo and Rhapsody, offer at least 2 million tracks.