Last week Microsoft launched a preview version of MSN Music, a potential competitor to Apple's iTunes Music Store. The introduction of MSN Music has elicited a response from Apple.

Microsoft's Windows-only service launches with 500,000 songs from leading commercial artists and independent labels, though Microsoft said it's licensed a million songs -- the same amount Apple noted the iTunes Music Store reached in early August. MSN Music leverages Windows Media Player 10 and Microsoft's own digital rights management scheme. Microsoft also notes that MSN Music is compatible with more than 70 portable digital music players now on the market, though the iPod is not one of them.

While MSN Music is, to date, totally unproven, the service is seen as a major competitor to the iTunes Music Store. Microsoft's marketing muscle, its operating system dominance in the personal computer marketplace and its long reach with third party hardware makers are all seen as factors that favor Microsoft's long-term success. Microsoft also has a history of coming late to the game with new technologies but ultimately occupying a dominant market position.

Friday, however, Apple was on top, with an estimated 70 per cent share of the legitimate digital music download market and a more than 50 per cent market share of portable digital music players. These are points Apple wants people to remember, it seems. The company issued a statement to MacCentral regarding MSN Music's launch:

"Today the score is:
iTunes: 125 million songs downloaded
Microsoft: 0 songs downloaded

"The iTunes Music Store is currently selling over 16 million songs per month (a rate of 200 million songs per year). How many songs will Microsoft's new online music store sell during its first month?

"Compared to iTunes, Microsoft's music store currently offers only half the songs and is missing many features, but its biggest problem may be that its downloaded songs do not play on iPod, iPod mini, or the Apple iPod from HP -- the world's most popular digital music players with over 50 per cent market share."