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Apple online music service wins kudos

Top executives at the major record companies have finally found an online music service that makes them excited about the digital future, sources said Monday.

The new service, developed by Apple Computer, offers Macintosh users many of the same capabilities that are already available from services previously endorsed by the labels. But the Apple offering won over music executives because it makes buying and downloading music as simple and nontechnical as buying a book from Amazon.com, one source said.

“This is exactly what the music industry has been waiting for,” said one person familiar with the negotiations between the Cupertino computer maker and the labels. “It’s hip. It’s quick. It’s easy. If people on the Internet are actually interested in buying music, not just stealing it, this is the answer.”

That ease of use has music executives optimistic that the Apple service will be an effective antidote to surging piracy on the Internet, sources said. Other legitimate music services have cumbersome pricing plans and are more technically complex than unauthorized online services, such as the Kazaa file-sharing network.

The new service would only be available to users of Apple’s Macintosh line computers and iPod portable music players, who have been largely overlooked by the legitimate online music services. Although no licensing deals have been announced, sources close to the situation say at least four of the five major record companies have committed their music. The service could be launched as early as next month.

Apple’s products account for just a sliver of the total computer market – less than 3 percent of the computers sold worldwide are Macs, according to market research firm IDC. The vast majority of the potential audience for downloadable music services uses machines that run Microsoft’s Windows software.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the service Monday.

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