Rhapsody to Replace iTunes on HP PCs

RealNetworks has announced an agreement with computer maker Hewlett-Packard to make RealNetworks’ Rhapsody the default player for all major audio formats (MPC, AAC, WMA, and RealAudio) on HP Pavilion PCs, HP Pavilion Media Center TV PCs, and Compaq Presario PCs.

Once in place, opening an audio file in any of these formats will launch the Rhapsody music jukebox, which has built-in functions tied to both the Rhapsody music subscription service and music store. And, in a shot back to the old Microsoft antitrust days, Real’s Rhapsody software will get a coveted spot on the Windows desktop.

The agreement marks another burned bridge between HP and Apple. HP had been shipping Apple’s iTunes jukebox software as the default media player on many systems (an agreement trumpeted loudly at CES just two years ago), which (of course) tied directly to Apple’s iTunes Music Store. But since the ouster of former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, HP has been pulling away from Apple, previously by terminating a resale agreement for Apple’s iPod music players.

“HP is committed to bringing consumers the best PC entertainment experience,” said HP’s Bob Lund. “We selected Rhapsody because we want to give our customers a compelling choice for their music management software and easy access to a leading subscription music experience on the Web.”

RealNetworks’ Rhapsody service enables consumers to listen to up to 25 full tracks from Rhapsody’s extensive music library for free each month, and provides free access to the software’s other features. Users can also purchase music through Rhapsody’s integrated music download store: songs are $0.99 and most albums are $9.99. Via Real’s Harmony technology, Rhapsody tracks can be transferred to virtually any portable music player, currently including Apple’s iPod line.

Real today also announced an agreement to bring Rhapsody services to Cox cable customers during 2006. Under the agreement, Cox High Speed Internet customers would have access to the Rhapsody service, and song purchases and subscription charges would appear as part of the customers’ Cox cable bill, rather than as a separate subscription or purchase transaction.