Microsoft is launching its long-awaited Xbox Music service tomorrow (16-Oct), providing early access to owners of its Xbox 360 console before a full launch for Windows 8 computers on 26 October.

As predicted, the service includes free streaming radio, subscription-based streaming and a la carte downloads, making it a direct rival for Sony’s Music Unlimited.

“There are a lot of individual services that do a good job, but today there isn’t a service which can pull together the benefits of download-to-own, music subscription, or free streaming services,” claims Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi in a statement. “We’ve been able to simplify the music experience in a really powerful way.”

Some details: Xbox Music will include free on-demand listening on Windows 8 tablets and computers, supported by advertising. Users who pay $9.99 a month will also be able to listen on-demand to the 30 million-strong catalogue on their Windows Phones and Xbox 360s, with Android and iOS apps coming “eventually”.

A big deal? Microsoft has clearly been working hard to ensure Xbox Music debuts with a strong set of features, in contrast to launches by Amazon and Google in recent times – although it won’t add scan-and-match to its cloud locker element until 2013.

The key will be in the marketing though: Sony’s Music Unlimited had 1m active users by January this year, but the company hasn’t shouted about other milestones (or about how many of those users are actually paying) since. It will be interesting to see how rival services react to Xbox Music’s default player status on Windows 8 computers too.

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