Internet music reached a milestone in its quest for legitimacy last week when two competing Web services owned by major record labels announced arrangements to sell songs from all five of the big labels.
Pressplay (www.pressplay.com), the subscription service owned by Sony and Universal, announced Wednesday that it had licensed songs from Warner Music Group, the only major label whose products previously were not available on the site.
The next day, rival subscription service MusicNet (www.musicnet.com), co-owned by Warner, EMI Group and BMG, announced it had obtained the rights to content from Sony and Universal.
EMI also announced new distribution deals with Pressplay, MusicNet and seven independent Internet music sites (Alliance Entertainment, Ecast, FullAudio, Liquid Audio, Listen.com, Roxio and Streamwaves) that will relax rules on what consumers can do with EMI music bought online. EMI will let people download permanent copies of songs to their hard drives, transfer the songs to portable digital-music players (provided that the devices don't allow users to move the songs to a second computer) and make three copies to blank CDs.
EMI's new arrangement begins on Dec. 1. Distributors can use any format that supports those copying restrictions, which would rule out the popular MP3 standard. It would, however, permit Microsoft's Windows Media Audio, which EMI's vice president for new media, Jay Samit, said offers higher fidelity and smaller file sizes than MP3s.
AltaVista Tries Comeback
One of the Internet's more elderly search engines, AltaVista, debuted a rejuvenated face and bulked-up body last week to try to catch up to its smart young rival, Google.
AltaVista streamlined its home page, expanded its Web index, revamped its news pages and released tools designed to help users refine their queries.
A "more precision" button lets users narrow a search by choosing from available options, sparing them from having to memorize tedious search-engine syntax. An "assisted search" tool also suggests categories that might be related to your query, which you can click to narrow or broaden your search.
AltaVista also added Adobe's widely used Portable Document Format to its search index last week (something Google has supported since early 2001), plus various Internet databases that allow quick searches for such items as maps, directions, weather and city guides.
Yahoo E-Mail at a Premium
Yahoo began offering a "Mail Plus" e-mail service Thursday, starting at $29.99 a year, that bundles several previously available e-mail extras.
The option offers 25 megabytes of online mail storage and mail forwarding to other accounts. ($39.99 and $59.99 plans bump storage to 50 and 100 megabytes.) It also provides an enhanced version of Yahoo's spam blocker, access via regular mail programs and a way to let users save old messages to their hard drives in a format compatible with Microsoft's Outlook and Outlook Express programs.
Other Mail Plus features include the ability to send as many as 10 file attachments in one message, up from the current limit of three, and support for different return addresses.
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