Napster, which pioneered the concept of free music shared via the web, has moved back to that model -- with a catch.
Napster's basic service is now entirely advertising-subsidized, allowing users to stream music from the company's library of about 2 million songs, for free.
The catch, however, is that each song may be played only five times, after which the user is asked to subscribe to Napster's paid service, which costs $9.95 per month, or $14.95 per month with a "Napster-to-Go" option that allows users to store tracks on portable music players. Users may also buy the individual track instead of subscribing to the paid service.
Users must register for the free Napster service by registering a username, password, and email address. The service appears to use a Flash interface, both for playing the music as well as for displaying ads. Songs can not be queued up, so each song must be individually selected before it can be played. Songs that are listened to via the free service can not be downloaded to the user's hard drive.
Rival Rhapsody also offers a free service; however, users are restricted to listening to 25 "song plays" per month, with no restrictions on the number of times an individual song may be listened to within the 25-song limit. A "Rhapsody Unlimited" option allows users to listen to as many songs as they would like within its 1.3-million song archive for $9.95 per month. The Rhapsody service requires special player software to be downloaded.
The Napster free service is only currently available in the United States, the company said.