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This week in digital music

Microsoft keeps trying to catch up with Apple's Computer's dominance of the digital music business.

Microsoft keeps trying to catch up with Apple's Computer's dominance of the digital music business.

Later this year, Microsoft will bolster its online song store with a new subscription service, sources familiar with the plans say.

The software giant launched its song download store, similar to Apple's iTunes store, last September. But the Microsoft MSN-branded service did not include a subscription plan.

Now Microsoft is working with record labels and copyright holders in preparation for launching its subscription-based component, sources familiar with the talks said. The tentative features of the new service--which is still under development--include advanced community aspects and playlist-sharing. Microsoft is also working to give subscribers a new, Microsoft-formatted version of any song they've purchased from the iTunes store so those songs can be played on devices other than an iPod.

Digital media company Roxio is also taking a shot at Apple's market with the announcement of a software suite designed to let iPod owners fine-tune their song collections and other audio files. Boom Box comprises five applications, including some geared for people who want to tinker with more than just music. It's priced at $49.95.

For those who want to delve into the trendy area of podcasting, Roxio's iPodderX application directs podcast subscriptions to a desktop from which those audio files can be transferred to Apple's digital music device. In a similar vein, Roxio's Audio Hijack application lets people schedule the recording of Internet radio broadcasts.

Meanwhile, Apple's iTunes online music store is as popular as most music-swapping networks. A survey by market researcher NPD Group found that approximately 1.7 million U.S. households downloaded a song from iTunes in March. That was good enough to earn the store a second-place ranking.

According to NPD, about 4 percent of Internet-enabled households in the nation used a paid music download store in March. Most of those who prefer legal music download sites are over 30 years of age. Many younger consumers are still sharing files over peer-to-peer services, NPD said.