If you want to buy a la carte, you can go to the Xbox Music Store. There, you can buy MP3 songs as single tracks or entire albums on the Windows 8 tablet or PC and on Windows Phone 8.

Xbox Music 5You can also enjoy a Pandora Internet-like radio function. Smart DJ is an artist-based radio option where you can personalize your collection, discover new songs, and create instant playlists. You can skip through selections an unlimited number of times and view the full recommended music stream. Smart DJ can thereby give you more control over the radio. By contrast, Pandora does not allow you to skip many songs, and you have limited control of the content.

Another feature is cloud storage. Available in the coming year, the Amazon-like┬áscan-and-match tool will let you add your own songs to your Xbox Music cloud catalog, including music you have acquired through other services. So if you really want to add content that isn’t available on Xbox Music — like iTunes-exclusive Beatles recordings — you can do so (as long as the technology conversion works). Anything you add to the collection goes to the cloud, so you can manage across devices easily.

Xbox Music 6Microsoft is also offering social-music features that let you share your content with friends and family. The music collection isn’t displayed as a spreadsheet or list. It uses striking visuals like album cover art. As you drill down on an artist via your player’s touchscreen, you can see photos, bios, cover art, and discography.

Xbox Music will be pre-installed as the default music program on all Windows 8 (launching Oct. 26) tablets and PCs and on Windows Phone 8 smartphones.

It will be launched as part of a console update on the Xbox 360. The Xbox Music update for the Xbox 360 rolls out on Oct. 16 as a streaming-only service, though you can also create your own playlists. The Xbox 360 version requires that you own a console and have separate subscriptions like Xbox Live Gold.

Free streaming starts on Windows 8 tablets and PCs on Oct. 26 in 15 markets worldwide, with access to 30 million songs. Pricing will vary by region.

To purchase music on Windows 8 devices, you can use cash-based payment or Microsoft Points (which are currently used on Xbox Live).