iMesh’s BearShare 6.0 Goes Legit

iMesh subsidiary MusicLab today announced a beta launch of BearShare 6.0, an authorized peer-to-peer file sharing service offering access to more than 15 million music tracks and videos, including more than 2.5 million tracks licensed from both major and independent music labels. With BearShare 6.0, iMesh takes the peer-to-peer client “legit,” while offering new music subscription and social networking features.

As background, iMesh aquired MusicLab (and with it, the BearShare Gnutella client) back in May. The company runs its own music service, also called iMesh, which is one of the original peer-to-peer file sharing services, dating back to 1999. For the time being, iMesh and BearShare will co-exist, although members of either service wil increasingly be able to interact with each other as they develop.

BearShare 6.0 will introduce a new ToGo music subscription service, which will offer all-you-can-listen-to access to both free tracks and premium licensed content at rates competitive with other music subscription and download services. The ToGo service will support PlaysForSure compatible portable devices—which means iPods don’t get to play—and will appear shortly as a feature of the iMesh service as well. But, ToGo subscriptions are free for 30 days, after which they will be available for an as-yet-unspecified rate.

BearShare will require Windows Media Player 10, and is also incorporating a number of social networking features, such as sharing and browsing user profiles, music library management tools, and instant messaging. A “Listen Together” feature lets users see what their friends are listening to, and “Send a Song” enables users to send favorite songs to friends both inside and outside the BearShare network: of course, if a friend isn’t a member of BearShare, they need to sign up to hear the song. New searching and music discovery features enable users to select from recommended songs, top picks, and user-generated playlists. Users will also be able to do re-download any tracks they’ve purchased if those files are lost or deleted.

It remains to be seen whether services like iMesh and BearShare can hold their own in a market dominated by the likes of Apple, RealNetworks, and Microsoft’s increasingly aggressive music offerings via MSN and Urge. If the services can carve out a unique niche and differentiate themselves from “generic” digital music services—while still offering premium content at a good price—they may have a shot.

Where to download BearShare 6.0 and try it out? We’d suggest the BearShare site, but it hasn’t been updated to point to the BearShare 6.0 beta yet. We’re sure they’re working on it.