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Thursday, January 05, 2006, 11:00 am PT (02:00 pm ET)

HP dumps iTunes, chooses Real\'s Rhapsody

After several years of distributing Apple Computer's iTunes software with its new PCs, Hewlett-Packard is shifting its allegiances to rival RealNetworks' Rhapsody music service, reports CNet News.com.

The move — which will likely be announced on Thursday — has been expected ever since HP decided last summer to stop distributing HP-branded iPod music players.

"Rhapsody will now be the default music-playing software on HP's new PCs and laptops, and beginning in spring 2006, HP customers will get a free 30-day trial subscription to RealNetworks' music subscription service," CNet said.

RealNetworks Senior Vice President Dan Sheeran told the publication his company had been "particularly attracted to HP after looking at the computer company's plans for home entertainment devices," although the current deal extends only to HP's consumer laptops and desktops.

"When we look at HP's consumer product lineup, we get very excited," Sheeran said. "We view that as a great potential opportunity for Rhapsody to flow into other devices."

The first step in the process will likely be to develop a remote-control function that can be used with versions of Rhapsody running on HP's TV-connected Windows Media Center Edition PCs, Sheeran said.

RealNetworks is also expected to announce a separate distribution deal with the Cox Communications cable company, which will allow Rhapsody's monthly fee to be included on a customer's cable bill for the first time.

HP's initial deal with Apple was launched exactly two years ago, at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show .