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iTunes Match Goes Live: What You Need to Know

Apple has just launched the final, and arguably coolest, piece of its iCloud strategy, iTunes Match. The service, which you can sign up for now through iTunes, lets users add songs they haven't downloaded through iTunes to their iCloud library. Without the Match, the only songs you can add to iCloud are those specifically purchased through the iTunes Store.

What does that mean? Well, if you sign up for Match, you can add any songs you may have ripped from CDs, downloaded through another source like Amazon's Music Store, or other, ahem ... illegitimate means, and listen to them on any iCloud-enabled device without having to sync your devices.

Match works by searching your music collection to determine which songs have been purchased through iTunes and which haven't. When it finds a song you have not purchased through iTunes, Match will find it on Apple's servers and add it to your iCloud library. The best part? Match will upgrade your songs to 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free versions, even if your original version was lower quality or acquired through shady means. Talk about MP3 laundering!

What makes the service even more impressive is that it essentially eliminates the often agonizingly long process of uploading your music collection to the cloud. That's because the songs already exist on Apple's servers. All Match has to do is find it and add it to your collection. The only time you'll have to upload something is if Match can't find a particular song. That's much easier and significantly less time consuming than the method used by services like Google Music, which require you to upload your entire library to the cloud.

That brings us to the matter of cost. Match will run you $24.99 a year. Decide you're done with the service, and you won't be able to play your non-iTunes songs through iCloud. To get iTunes Match, you'll have to download the latest version of iTunes. Once installed, a Match tab will be available in the iTunes sidebar. Click that and signup. As of this writing, Apple said its servers were being overwhelmed with users signing up for the service, so you may want to give it an hour or two.