Microsoft's YouTube rival arrives in public beta

Microsoft's competitor to YouTube, MSN Soapbox, is now available in a public beta

Microsoft has unveiled a public beta of its MSN Soapbox video-upload service, its competitor to Google's popular YouTube service.

The service, which Microsoft unveiled last September, has been available to beta testers only by invitation for several months. But now anyone can test out the service by going to this Web site, reports the the LiveSide blog, which tracks Microsoft's Windows Live Internet services.

Like YouTube, Soapbox allows users not only to upload videos to the Web in almost any digital video format, but also to tag and categorize them so other users can find them. The service also lets users watch videos and browse for new ones simultaneously on the same screen, something that differentiates it from YouTube, Microsoft has said.

Microsoft has been assembling a raft of Web-based services to compete with Google and Yahoo since November 2005, when Chief Architect Ray Ozzie unveiled the company's Live services initiative. The company has said it would invest a significant amount of money in its Web efforts, and financial analysts expect Microsoft to give an update on this plan during a briefing with analysts in New York Thursday.

Though many believe the Live services will replace Microsoft's MSN branded services, the company continues to maintain MSN as a site where it offers entertainment content, which may explain why it branded Soapbox with the MSN name rather than Live. The Live moniker refers more to actual services such as Windows Live e-mail, instant messaging and search.

Google announced in October it was buying YouTube for US$1.65 billion, a price many thought was too high for the video service. Still, YouTube remains one of the most popular sites on the Web.

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