Spotify gets ready to eat your iTunes for lunch

Spotify launches in the US to music-lovers' fanfare. The free cloud-based service offers listeners 15 million songs at the click of a mouse.

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Spotify has hopped the pond and is making waves in the US. The first free music player of its kind, Spotify is expected to become a major competitor to music download services like iTunes.

Finally. A free cloud-based music service that you'll want to use.

Sweden's Spotify has been well known in Europe for years. Since 2006, 10 million listeners from Sweden, France, the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Finland, and Norway have been tuning in to Europe's hottest music service using their computers and mobile phones.

Spotify utilizes the high speed internet access many mobile phones and most home computers now have to allow users to stream music from Spotify's catalogue rather than keep it on their personal devices.

And with a catalogue of 15 million songs, this is not your father's jukebox.

How it works

Though other services exist that allow users to listen to their choice of millions of songs online, and still more offer personalized online radio stations, Spotify will be the first to allow users to listen to any song, anytime they want. For free.

The service launched in the US on Thursday, and Spotify is ramping up their free service option. For the time being the free plan is invite-only and is expected to be opened to everybody in a few weeks. In the meantime, once Spotify emails users their invitations, they will be able to listen to any of the 15 million songs from their computer.

There are, of course, a few catches. First, you will have to listen to commercials. And after 6 months you will be limited to 10 hours per month.

This is what got 1.6 million users in Europe to opt for Spotify's paid service plans.

The two plans Spotify offers in the US are a PC plan for $4.99 and a combo PC and mobile plan for $9.99. Both plans remove the monthly limits and commercials, but the combo plan (confusingly named the "Unlimited" plan) allows users to listen to songs on their mobile phones and allows them to download songs onto their devices to be listened to offline.

This is quite possibly what could kill Apple's iTunes service as we know it, and indeed, threatens the entire music download industry.

On a cloud system files stay on a remote server and are read by users but not downloaded to the user's computer to be stored. Up until now, services like iTunes made users pay for songs which they then had to download and store on their computer. Many an unhappy computer user has lost his entire music collection due to a hard drive failure or laptop theft. This is one of the benefits of the cloud.

Much like Netflix has been called the video store killer (and now cable killer), the launch of Spotify may mark the beginning of the end of paid music downloads like those sold through iTunes. Apple's cloud solution, iTunes Match, offers a free service, but it only allows users to listen to songs purchased through iTunes. At $25 per year, Apple's paid offering is cheaper than Spotify's, but limits users to their own library of songs.

And because Spotify started in Europe, the service can travel with users when they leave the US on vacation or business.

Representatives at Spotify are plugging the software's Facebook integration as a major advantage over other services and proprietary services such as iTunes' Ping.

Not only is this a coup for music lovers, it may also turn out to be the paradigm shift users needed to switch to the cloud, which could have indirect ramifications as far reaching as reduced piracy.

In 2010, Billboard compared Spotify to the iPod. If it's as revolutionary as the iPod, users have a lot to look forward to.

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