Digital music continues to become cheaper and more easily available, and Microsoft is seemingly pushing it forward with free Web streaming for Xbox Music, plus iOS and Android apps to take it on the go.
Last year, Microsoft unveiled Xbox Music, transitioning its Zune music service into something with a broader appeal. At the time, users who owned an Xbox or Windows 8 machine could stream music for free using a dedicated app. Fortunately, that’s still the case; if you use the dedicated app, you’ll hear an ad ever so often (between the first and second song, in my case) but it remains free.
A MOG or Spotify-like Web player sounds like a terrific upgrade, and in some ways it is. If you’ve uploaded anything to the Xbox Music cloud, you’ll be able to listen to it on a variety of browsers: Internet Explorer 8+, Firefox 18+, Chrome 24+ and Safari 5.1+, among others.
But the only way to sign up for the “free” unlimited Web streaming at music.xbox.com appears to be via a Xbox Music Pass, a free-30 day trial that transforms itself into a paid $9.99/month subscrption unless you cancel the subscription before the allotted 30-day trial period is up. An annual, $99.90 option is also available.
If Microsoft does allows users with a Microsoft account access to free, online, unlimited streaming—again, an option that didn’t appear to be available Sunday night—the fine print of the deal offers another gotcha—it will be capped at 10 hours per month after six months. A paid subscription, naturally, frees you from this restriction.
Later this year, the Web version will also add free "radio" streaming, the ability to play songs directly from Bing results, and the ability to scan Web pages and return custom playlists based on their results.
Microsoft also said tht it would offer artist-based streaming radio to the mobile apps later this month. For now, it appears that an Xbox Music Pass is required, period, before you can use the Android mobile app and the iOS version as well.
The Xbox Music catalog consists of 30 million tracks worldwide (over 18 million in the United States), with a small subset of those available only for purchase.
If you want to listen to some free streaming music every once in a while, there are a number of Xbox Music competitors from which to choose. The ability to pick a specific song to listen to, for free, narrows the list considerably, and Microsoft’s Xbox Music console app remains a compelling reason to ditch other services like Rdio or Spotify.
But beyond those cozy confines, Microsoft’s Web music player seems to offer far less of a compelling reason to switch beyond the established services, There, other music services seem to offer at least as much as Microsoft does.