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Apple iTunes Music Store

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McDonald's stopped posting the number of burgers it had sold some years ago, but Apple continues to update the number of songs purchased from iTunes. As of May, more than 400 million tracks had been downloaded. When you ask experts to rank the leading online music stores, they invariably say, "There's Apple, and then there's everybody else."

And it's not hard to see why the iTunes Music Store became so popular, with its easy-to-use interface, free 30-second streamed samples of every song, and 99¢ charge per download - all with no subscription required. By making every track available as a single, the iTunes Music Store freed fans from having to buy entire albums. And when you do want all the tracks, there's a price break. All 25 tracks in the original Broadway cast recording of Spamalot add up to $24.75, but you can buy the whole album for $11.99. It also helps that all songs come in the same DRM-wrapped AAC format - used by the omnipresent iPod - though at only one bit rate: 128 kilobits per second, or kbps. (The higher the bit rate, the better the sound quality.) The choice is simple: whether you have a Windows or Mac computer, if you own an iPod, you download your music from the iTunes Music Store.

You can also use iTunes and your computer's CD writer to create standard audio CDs. But Apple's solution for letting you access your downloaded tunes on a computer across a wireless network in another room is less than ideal. While you can connect your stereo system to an AirPort Express with AirTunes ($129) and wirelessly receive music playing in iTunes, there's no remote control or any other way to manipulate your playlists. You have to walk back to wherever you have your computer. Apple.com/itunes

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