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Does Apple need to catch up to Microsoft this time?

Now we know why reports surfaced last month indicating that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) was in talks with the major record labels to introduce a streaming music service.

It wasn’t that the world’s most valuable tech company was gunning for Pandora (NYSE: P) or Spotify. The class act of Cupertino had a much bigger and familiar fish to fry: Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT).

Xbox Music was introduced overnight in the States. Microsoft’s full-featured digital music platform hopes to bridge the elements of Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes to create a one-stop hub for music discovery, playlist streaming, and MP3 purchases.

The service will roll out to Xbox Live console gamers shortly. It will also be made available to buyers of Windows 8 PCs and tablets — as well as mobile handsets powered by Windows Phone 8 — later this month.

In a nutshell, Xbox Music will come preinstalled as the default music player when Windows 8 rolls out during the final week of this month. It will feature ad-supported streaming of a 30 million song catalogue at no cost. Users can discover new music (like Pandora), make playlists of individual tracks that they want to hear (like Spotify), and purchase MP3 downloads (like Apple’s iTunes).

An Xbox Music Pass will be available for users that want greater cloud-based portability and enhanced features.

It’s true that Microsoft hasn’t had a lot of luck with digital music (Zune, anyone?). It’s also true that services are quickly evolving into jack of all trades. Spotify recently rolled out a Pandora-like music discovery platform.

You still have to like Microsoft’s aggressive move here. If the service proves popular — and admittedly that’s a big if, given the company’s history with consumer products and services outside of Xbox’s success — it will encourage PC owners to upgrade to Windows 8 and entice smartphone and tablet buyers to consider Microsoft’s operating system in lieu of Android or Apple’s iOS.

We’ll begin getting the first wave of critical reviews when the service rolls out to diehard gamers tomorrow. Microsoft know what’s at stake, and Apple has to be ready in case it actually needs to respond here.

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The Motley Fools purpose is to help the world invest, better. Take Stock is The Motley Fool’s free investing newsletter. Packed with stock ideas and investing advice, it is essential reading for anyone looking to build and grow their wealth in the years ahead. Click here now to request your free subscription, whilst it’s still available. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

A version of this article, written by Rick Aristotle Munarriz, originally appeared on fool.com

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