MusicMatch, the company that presently delivers the Windows software that ships with Apple's iPod music player, today launched its own music downloads service.

Like iTunes Music Store, MusicMatch is offering 200,000 songs at 99c each – about the same catalogue and at the same price as Apple's currently Mac-only service. Also like iTunes, the service is presently only available to US users. The company promises to make 500,000 tracks available by the end of the year.

The company's MusicMatch Jukebox presently claims 40 million users, which it says offers the company a "strong starting point" for introducing its service. The software integrates technology to help users find artists, albums and tracks to match their personal taste.


MusicMatch chairman and CEO Dennis Mudd said: "By offering consistent and fair ownership rights, breakthrough music personalization, convenient purchasing and the highest quality files, our service is better than any free illegal alternative. The Musicmatch Downloads service is the best way for people to find, buy and enjoy music that matches their unique tastes."

The MusicMatch Downloads service lets users preview tracks on MusicMatch Radio. They can look at artist biographies and album reviews, and purchase individual tracks or complete albums. To the displeasure of some bands such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who fear that à la carte download services will "cannibalize" album sales, MusicMatch also offers a feature listing the most popular tracks for each artist. Downloads are available as 160Kbs Windows Media 9 files.

PC company Dell is expected to use a re-branded version of the MusicMatch service as part of its consumer electronic offering later this year. It will also offer the Dell Digital Jukebox music player, again reflecting the success of Apple's iPod.

A wave of Windows-based music sharing services is expected for launch this year, including the revised and legal Napster 2.0 service, currently under development by Roxio.

Apple released a statement dismissive of Dell's plans on Friday: "It appears that Dell is re-branding one of the second-tier music services that will be announced soon, just like they are re-branding Creative's MP3 player. There is little original here," the company said.