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MSN Music presses mute on downloads

Two years after trying to take on iTunes, the site will stop selling downloads, instead pointing to Zune site and Rhapsody.

Two years after opening its MSN Music store to compete with Apple Computer's iTunes, Microsoft plans to stop selling downloads from the site, CNET has learned.

Beginning, Nov. 14, MSN's music site will begin redirecting music purchasers to either the Zune Marketplace Web site or to RealNetworks' Rhapsody site.

"After November 14, the 'Buy' buttons that you're used to seeing on MSN Music album and artist pages will change to links that connect you to Zune and to Real Rhapsody," MSN Entertainment general manager Rob Bennett said in an e-mail to MSN Music customers.

When it opened its online doors in September 2004, MSN Music had high hopes of competing with Apple, touting the fact that songs bought from the site could be played on a variety of Windows Media-compatible devices.

However, MSN Music, as well as other stores that sell tracks in the Windows Media Audio format, have been unable to compete with iTunes, which has maintained its dominance. Apple had dismissed Microsoft's effort when it launched, saying that its lack of support for the iPod would prevent it from becoming a hit.

With Zune, Microsoft is trying to replicate the success Apple has had by adopting one of its main strategies--controlling both the music service and device. However, the move has angered some of Microsoft's longtime partners, who built devices and services that used Microsoft's core technology.

In addition to promoting the Zune site, Microsoft is also touting that of rival RealNetworks. As part of a 2005 legal settlement with RealNetworks, Microsoft agreed that no music service would receive greater promotion than RealNetworks.

Microsoft plans to make over the MSN Music site, focusing on hosting live concerts and posting interviews with musicians and other music-related content. Microsoft is also making its MSN Radio service free.

As for those who have bought MSN Music tracks, Microsoft said on its Web site that users will still be able to use their songs, transfer them to compatible music players and burn them to CD.