Amazon has launched a public beta of its long-anticipated digital music download store, offering more than 2 million songs as MP3 files (a third of iTunes' current library). Most tracks are variable bit rate 256kbps MP3 files, though the occasional track is encoded at constant bit rates. Large, high-quality album art comes embedded in each file. The default song price is $0.99 per track and albums are $11.99, but the top 100 songs are only $0.89 apiece, and the top 100 albums go for $8.99. The uncompressed CD version of the album can be picked up for only $11.98, a full cent cheaper than the compressed download.
Individual tracks can be downloaded directly to the hard drive, but full album purchases have to use Amazon's download application. The program is currently available for Windows and Mac OS X, and it automatically adds downloaded tracks to a user's iTunes or Windows Media Player library. Amazon has also announced that a Linux version will be available soon, although Linux users are able to download individual tracks in the meantime. Unfortunately, there's no re-downloading of tracks; you'd better make a backup, because if you lose a song, you'll have to purchase it again to get another copy.