The long-delayed but much-anticipated service from Qtrax is finally going to launch - supposedly going live this Sunday at 12:00 am Eastern. Qtrax, in case you haven't heard, is a P2P file sharing network that has been in the works for eight years. However, it's not just any P2P file-sharing network - it's the world's first free and legal P2P file-sharing network that has the support of all four major record labels (EMI, SonyBMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group).

Why Qtrax?

According to a recent study by Jupiter Research, for each song sold, 100 more were stolen. The study also reported that 94% of online music consumers were unwilling to pay for music. The record labels finally got the hint: the Napster Generation thinks music should be free, and they will find a way to get it for free, despite laws or lawsuits. When the record companies realized all their attempts to make up for lost revenue from CD sales had failed, they knew that they now had no alternative but to offer free music to the online masses.

Enter Qtrax

The Qtrax catalog currently boasts 5,000,000 songs, but has plans to eventually offer over 25 million. This makes Qtrax poised to become the most complete online catalog of no-cost legal downloads anywhere in the world. The site, which will launch in Cannes, France with support from stars like James Blunt and LL Cool J is being heralded as the "death knell for CDs" as well as "a massive challenge to iTunes."

The Good

  • Songbird-Like Player: Qtrax users download the Qtrax Player, a program built upon the popular Songbird platform. The player functions as the search engine and player for the tunes but it also provides access to a website filled with artist content, including videos, ringtones, lyrics, album art, and up-to-the-minute artist news.
  • You Can Upload Your Music: Qtrax says that its users can upload their own music, including songs bought on iTunes or other services.
  • May Include "Grey" Music: Since the service will let users upload their own collections, it's possible that Qtrax will allow the tunes like live recordings or demos. Although details are fuzzy on this, if these rare gems were included, Qtrax would have another big selling point.
  • Artists are Compensated: Qtrax works with record labels and publishers, licensing their content for distribution online. when you download and play music, the support of advertisers allows Qtrax to compensate artists for their work, something that doesn't happen when you use illegal P2P networks.
  • Safe & Free: They is no cost to download the software, there are no hidden charges, no membership fees, and no per song costs. There's also no adware, spyware, or spoofing.

The Bad

  • Songbird-Like Player: It may be cool, but it's also mandatory to use the player. Since the player is where the service displays the ads, you must use it, no getting around it.
  • DRM: Despite the recent wave of DRM-free music, Qtrax songs will be wrapped in DRM.
  • No Beatles here, either: Some music is still  not cleared by labels for digital distribution, so even though this has industry support, you're not going to find those missing tunes here.
  • PC-Only (for now): And by PC, they mean Vista and XP only. The Mac version won't be out until March 18th.

The Worst

  • QTrax songs can't be played on iPods. They say this may change at a later date, but until then, this will kill the service's potential in a big way.

What it Means

What's most important about Qtrax's launch is the changed mentality of the record labels' vision for the online music marketplace. Having them realize that they must offer free music in order to compete with industry behemoths like iTunes, is a promising step in the right direction.

And free music doesn't have to be the disaster labels have always thought. Says Qtrax chief Allan Klepfisz, "the idea of free music is not so radical. Commercial radio and free-to-air television is paid for by advertisers and available for free to consumers."

Exactly.