Lost amid the hoopla last week over EMI's announcement that it will
sell digital music without Digital Rights Management (DRM)
restrictions was the fact that Apple wasn't the only online music
service to sign on for the DRM-free music offerings. This week,
Microsoft also admitted that it will offer music without DRM.

"The EMI announcement is not exclusive to Apple," a Microsoft
spokesperson said. "Consumers have made it clear that unprotected
music is something they want. We plan on offering it to them as soon
as our label partners are comfortable with it." Microsoft said that it
has been working with EMI and other record labels for quite some time,
and will offer DRM-free music as soon as possible via the Zune
Marketplace, Microsoft's online service for the Zune.

What's unclear is which file format Microsoft will choose to sell its
music in. Apple will sell DRM-free music in the Advanced Audio Coding
(AAC) format, which has serious compatibility problems with non-Apple
hardware. Microsoft currently sells music on the Zune Marketplace in
the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, which suggests that the company
will continue to do so when DRM is no longer required. However, EMI
said that online music services can use whatever format they'd like,
including the industry-standard MP3 format, which is the most
interoperable format.

If Microsoft would like to one-up Apple--and I'm guessing that the
software giant would--it should use the MP3 format. Doing so would be
a great way to ensure that the more expensive and consortium-owned AAC
format doesn't become the de facto standard.