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Given that Apple CEO Steve Jobs is noted for controlling anything to do with the company’s products (Robertson calls it “an iMonopoly”), how was Robertson able to link into the iTunes software? He won’t say. He does say that Jon Johansen, a recent hire at MP3Tunes, who gained notoriety (and legal trouble) for circumventing the encryption algorithm that prevented DVDs from playing on Linux machines, wasn’t involved in the effort. (Apple representatives did not respond to multiple attempts to reach them for comment.)

Meanwhile, the beta-launch of Real Networks’ Rhapsody.com marks the first service for Linux and Macintosh users who want to experiment with subscription-based online music programs.

The parent service, Rhapsody, required a downloaded software client, the Real One player and a monthly subscription fee. Signing up for this older, full-featured service gives users access to more than a million songs in a typical all-you-can-listen format. Rhapsody currently has 1.3 million users.

With the new online-based Rhapsody.com, users of Firefox, Safari (Mac), and Internet Explorer can listen to 25 song streams per month and to 25 different online radio stations for free. Like Oboe, Rhapsody.com users can access the music through any major operating system on any computer.

“We wanted to give users the least amount of friction in accessing the service,” says Karim Meghji, vice president of music services for Real Networks. “We [also] wanted to reach out to the Linux and the Mac communities. This is a good start.”

Creating a version of the software for the minority of users who make up the Linux and Mac desktop community is a laudable effort. Yet it’s clear from this initial launch that Rhapsody online has a way to go to match the award-winning quality of its namesake. Possibly its most glaring omission is the inability to access saved music, or a playlist, through Rhapsody.com. Also, with the impressive work happening around technologies such as AJAX, which give browsers near-desktop-application power, one wonders why there’s need for a client download at all.

“I’ll be upfront,” says Meghji. “This is the beginning, not the end. We would have liked to do more and there is more race for us to run.”

MP3Tunes and Real Networks are taking different approaches to the concept of having personalized music storage anywhere online. Neither will upend Apple’s dominant position. But they are attempting to bring more people, including Linux users, into the world of digital music and to offer more choices. And that’s a happy tune for consumers.

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