Apple is serious about selling music.
Last week, Apple Computer Inc. released the Windows version of its iTunes Music Store.
The news was no surprise, as Apple had for months promised a Windows version of the software, and a week earlier sent out media invitations for an Apple event containing the statement: "The year's biggest music story is about to get even bigger."
But the Windows version of iTunes, combined with announcements of several major partnerships to promote the iTunes Music Store, shows a far more broader-minded Apple than we're used to seeing.
That Apple was willing to write software for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows at all -- CEO Steve Jobs announced it with the phrase "Hell Froze Over" -- shows just how seriously the company is taking its new role as a music retailer. The only other Windows software Apple distributes is its audio-video QuickTime player, introduced more than a decade ago.
Just as noteworthy as Apple writing software for the platform of its historic rival is that it is suddenly willing to forge numerous high-visibility partnerships with other companies, rather than going it alone as it typically has done in the past.
The most significant announcement last Thursday was Apple's "alliance" with America Online Inc., which will allow AOL's 25 million users access to the iTunes Music Store when activated later this year.
According to the agreement, AOL, based in Dulles, Va., will link to iTunes artists, albums and songs from the AOL Music site to the relevant iTunes Music Store page. In one swoop, Apple has ensured that millions of Windows users will have the opportunity to sample the iTunes Music Store.
Another bold and surprising move for Apple is the agreement with Pepsi-Cola North America Inc. to give away 100 million free songs via a bottle-cap promotion. The promotion will begin Feb. 1 and run until March 31. Like the AOL deal, the Pepsi promotion ensures that millions of Windows users will be exposed to the iTunes Music Store.
"There's a land rush to see who's going to come out a leader," said Phil Leigh, senior analyst with Inside Digital Media. "So Apple is striking the strongest partnerships they can."
Such aggressive promotional campaigns with high-profile partners, starting with the Volkswagen "Pods Unite" campaign that began in July, indicate that -- particularly in the extremely competitive realm of online music retailing -- Apple realizes its isolationist policies of old just don't cut it anymore.
Apple's iTunes Music Store joins several Windows-based music download services -- including the much-maligned Buymusic.com, as well as MusicMatch, eMusic, Rhapsody and, as of Oct. 29, Roxio's Napster 2.0.
In addition, several other companies have expressed interest in starting services, including Microsoft and Dell Computer Inc. And then you have such illegal file-sharing services as KaZaa, which persist despite a wave of lawsuits from the recording industry.
Apple no doubt is hoping that by getting a lot of exposure early, it will be able to show Windows users that the iTunes Music Store offers them a better music-buying experience, particularly if they own an iPod.
So for Apple to thrive among this hefty slate of competitors, it will need to -- somehow -- stay one step ahead of them.
Apple indicated it has every intention of doing so last week when it revealed the details of the iTunes Music Store for Windows as well as several new features.