"Apple is clearly the leader in online music today - but what else should we be doing?" asked Apple CEO Steve Jobs last night.

"Partnership", he answered, announcing Apple's alliance with AOL in the US - under which AOL subscribers will be able to access the iTunes Music Store using AOL's browser. He also took the lid off a massive deal with Pepsi-Cola.

This means 25 million US AOL users get instant, one-click registration to the iTunes Music Store. AOL will also integrate links to iTunes artists, albums and songs throughout its music site, AOL Music. Members link directly to specific iTunes Music Store pages to preview and buy music as they browse and read music news and reviews.

Jobs said: "Apple and AOL are making it easy for AOL's 25 million US members to legally buy music online. With just one click, AOL members will be able to legally preview, purchase and download music from the iTunes Music Store's catalog of more than 400,000 songs."

Runaway hit AOL chairman and CEO Jonathan Miller was similarly enthusiastic about the new feature: "Apple's iTunes Music Store is a runaway hit," he said, adding: "Today, Apple and AOL are uniting the number one music destination site, AOL Music, with the number one music download site, Apple's iTunes Music Store, to bring customers the most complete online digital music experience."

This shrewd move to expand the potential market for Apple's music store (which is rumoured to be matched soon with a similar deal through Amazon.com) brings 16 million active music fans who use AOL Music each month a step closer to the Apple.

AOL Music offers advance previews of songs and videos before they are available elsewhere, live gigs and other features. Under the deal, Apple will also offer selections of AOL's original content, including live sessions, through its Music Store.