Software giant, Microsoft, has inked a deal with Australia's largest music retail chain, Sanity, to offer an all-you-can-eat digital music subscription service.
Subscribers will be able to access a library of more than one million tracks from Sanity's online store, on either a paid (perpetual download license) or subscription (monthly access charge) basis.
Due to launch in April, the library will initially be limited to major label releases (from Sony BMG, Warner, EMI and Universal) - but Sanity Music chief executive, Greg Milne, said independent labels would also be included in the near future. The retailer planned to update the library with about 300 new tracks per month.
Pricing for downloads or the subscription service are yet to be set, but Milne said the subscription service would be priced at "less than the price of a couple of latest release CDs."
The only downfall is that the service exclusively utilises Microsoft's latest media player software - Windows Media Player 11 (WMP11). So far, the list of certified portable players for this software includes models manufactured by Toshiba, Samsung, Creative, iRiver and Sandisk - but not the market leader, Apple's iPod.
"The music you download from the service is in Windows Media Audio [WMA] format, which is not compatible with the iPod," a Microsoft spokesperson said.
Sanity's Milne couldn't see the situation changing in the near future.
"What Apple chose to do is up to them," he said. "We have partnered up with Microsoft to give consumers an entirely new online experience to address what our customers tell us is the 'boring' nature of the existing download sites."
The subscription service stores an offline version of Sanity's music catalogue on the user's PC - automatically updating itself every time the user logs on to the site. Tracks can then be searched and navigated offline (ie faster) before the user commits to a download.
If a user's subscription expires, the digital rights management wrapped around the tracks disabled them from use, a Microsoft spokesperson said. But any tracks that were paid for as a download (rather than part of the subscription), remain enabled.
While Microsoft announced the new service in conjunction with the launch of its new Vista operating system, the service was still available for XP users who chose to download WMP11, the spokesperson said.