Microsoft is reportedly updating its Xbox Music service as part of Windows 8.1, the latest version of its desktop operating system, to put a greater emphasis on the user’s existing collection of digital records.

The home screen of the Windows 8 has been tweaked slightly, with ‘Collection’ listed at the top of the sidebar and ‘Explore nestled just underneath. It’s been designed to reduce the number of clicks needed to dive into the user’s existing tracks – those not streamed from Xbox Music itself – and replace any alternative music apps.

Microsoft is also taking a jab at Pandora and Nokia Music+ in this version, launching its own Internet radio service that allows users to launch a new ‘station’ based on a specific artist or music genre. They’re essentially infinite playlists, built on algorithms that determine similar musicians, artists and groups.

xbox music preview 730x531 Microsoft readies new Xbox Music app for Windows 8.1, introduces free, ad supported radio feature

Techcrunch notes that the radio functionality is available to everyone – even those without an existing Xbox Music subscription. As with iTunes Radio, recently unveiled by Apple, it’s a crucial free tier that should get users interested and aware of the service. There’s also a sprinkling of adverts to help Microsoft earn some extra dough, but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless.

Xbox Music also integrates with Windows 8.1 on a deeeper level. When the user is browsing the Web, they can tap the Share charm and instantly begin streaming the artist’s tracks in Xbox Music. It’s also possible to scan a page listing multiple tracks – an official chart, list of top albums, etc. – and create a playlist automatically in Xbox Music.

Microsoft was cited by TechCrunch saying that the new version of Xbox Music would launch “by the end of the year.” That’s a pretty flexible time frame, but hopefully it’ll be available to coincide with the public release of Windows 8.1.

Image Credit: TechCrunch