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Connecting to the Music Superhighway

With the recent launch of online music services, the record industry is hoping to take a bite out of music piracy. But just getting connected to your favorite tunes can be confusing for digital music neophytes. Here's how to get three of the biggest online music services working for you.

iTunes Music Store

Any Mac user with Mac OS X version 10.1.5 or later and an Internet connection can use the iTunes Music Store. To access the service, users need to update their iTunes software to version 4.0 or higher. This can be done through Apple's "software update" feature in the system preferences panel or by manually downloading and installing the software.

Once iTunes 4.0 is installed and you have an active Internet connection, launch the program and click on the "Music Store" icon in the source menu. iTunes will automatically connect to Apple's servers and bring up a one-time walkthrough to enter payment information. After payment, clicking on the Music Store icon will bring up the download service where you can search for music by song name, genre, artist or album; you can also just browse the site here.

Users can listen to 30-second samples of Apple's collection of over 200,000 $.99 tracks. Buying is as simple as clicking the "buy song" button next to the track name.

Tracks download in about 10 seconds for users with DSL or cable modem services. Dial-up download times vary, but can take up to 30 minutes. Once users have downloaded music they can burn CDs of their tunes an unlimited number of times or download songs to portable digital music players like Apple's iPod.

Listen.com

Listen.com takes a different approach to digital music. Instead of downloading song files to a local hard disk, Listen.com's Rhapsody program is more like a jukebox. Users create custom playlists of their favorite music and then the songs are streamed over the Internet to users' computers.

Rhapsody is for PC users working on at least a Windows 98 operating system and is free to download. Subscriptions cost $9.95 per month for unlimited use of any of Listen.com's 300,000-song catalog. Users must pay an additional $.79 per track if they want to burn CDs from their playlists.

Because tracks are not actually sent to a local hard drive, users can't download songs to portable digital music players. Not downloading tracks also means that users will lose all their music if they cancel their subscription. Users also need an active high-speed Internet connection to listen to music.

Pressplay.com

Pressplay is a sort of hybrid between the iTunes Music Store and Listen.com's Rhapsody. Like Rhapsody, users pay a flat fee of $9.95 per month to be able to access unlimited streaming music. Pressplay users, however, can also download music to their hard drives, which allows them to play music when not online. Downloads become unusable if users unsubscribe from the Pressplay service.

Users can also download permanent "portable" versions of songs. Each portable download can be burned to CD or copied to a portable device, but only once. Portable downloads cost between $.95 and $1.19 per track. Portable downloads are usable even if a subscriber withdraws from the Pressplay service, though streaming and non-portable downloads are not.

Pressplay is available through a number of pre-bundled services like Sony's Music Club or Yahoo! Music. The service is also available as a free plug-in for the Windows Media Player 9. Once Windows Media Player 9 is installed users can click the "premium service" button and then follow the Pressplay link.

Pressplay was recently purchased by media software maker Roxio and will be incorporated into its legitimate relaunch of the now defunct music-sharing service Napster.