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Microsoft to kill its free Xbox Music streaming service

The free service will be retired on December 1 as Microsoft decides to focus on its subscription plan alone.

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Microsoft is putting the kibosh on the free option for Xbox Music. Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Microsoft will pull the plug on the free version of its Xbox Music streaming service on December 1.

After that, Microsoft will offer only its $10-a-month Xbox Music Pass, which serves up unlimited, ad-free music streaming. The no-cost, ad-supported version, which has about five weeks of life left, offers unlimited music streaming for six months and then caps you at 10 hours per month.

In a support page quietly posted on Wednesday, Microsoft didn't spell out why it's ditching the free option other than to say: "We are focusing Xbox Music to deliver the ultimate music purchase and subscription service experience for our customers." The company also talked up the paid option, saying that with "Xbox Music Pass, you have access to millions of songs on your PC, tablet, Xbox, phone and the web." The subscription plan also lets you download music so you can listen to it offline.

A spokesman for Microsoft told CNET on Thursday that all the company is formally saying on the subject is what's posted on the support page.

Launched in 2012, Xbox Music was Microsoft's attempt to replace its unsuccessful Zune service with a new product that would offer music streaming, storage and purchasing all in one shot. Xbox Music has been accessible via PCs and mobile devices. But on the PC side, the service has been limited to Windows 8 and 8.1, which together own only around 12 percent of the market, according to Web tracker Net Applications.

Xbox Music also has had to compete with a variety of other music streaming services, such as Pandora, Spotify, Google Play Music and iTunes Radio. Many such streaming services offer a free option to attract listeners but ultimately try to lure people into a paid subscription plan.

Even the heavyweights of music streaming are tinkering with their pricing formulas. Spotify, for instance, earlier this week introduced a family plan for its premium service, in which only one person pays the full $10 per month, while additional members on the plan pay half that. Apple, meanwhile, is reportedly working toward a price cut for the Beats Music service it acquired in August.

At the same time, others are continuing to expand or looking to break in. Global success story Deezer, for one, is now making its entry into the mammoth US market. And Amazon, which has been known to conquer a market or two, launched its own Prime Music service in June.

People who want to check out Xbox Music Pass without committing to a subscription can sign up for a free 30-day trial. As an alternative, you can buy songs and albums on an individual basis.

Both of the Xbox Music plans have allowed listeners to add their own music to the service, create and listen to their online radio stations and set up music playlists.

So come December 1, what happens to any songs you've purchased, downloaded or added through Xbox Music?

No worries, Microsoft said on its support page. All of the music you bought via Xbox Music will survive on your Windows PC, tablet and phone. And any MP3 files you've added to Xbox Music will be available as well.

And what happens to your customized playlists and radio stations? Well, that's a slightly different story.

"You may continue to view any playlists or collections you created using the free streaming feature, but you can't listen to the music in those playlists or collections unless you purchase the music or an Xbox Music Pass," Microsoft said on its support page. "If you have an Xbox Music Pass, you will still have access to all the music in your playlists, radio stations, collections, and catalog."

Updated at 9:20 a.m. PT with Microsoft's response.