Napster is expected to bow today (Jan. 10) a limited public beta version of its new commercial file-swapping technology, Billboard Bulletin reports. The launch -- which covers a test group of 20,000 U

Napster is expected to bow today (Jan. 10) a limited public beta version of its new commercial file-swapping technology, Billboard Bulletin reports. The launch -- which covers a test group of 20,000 U.S. users and 110,000 tracks from independent label partners -- marks the first time consumers have been able to use Napster since it went dark under court order last July.

While the service is expected to be decidedly different from the old Napster, the company says it intends to retain the core peer-to-peer functionality. Users will ultimately be able to introduce content into the system, as long as it is cleared for sharing by rights-holders.

Among the new features: accounts can be accessed from home or work, subscribers can create sub-accounts so families can use the same account but manage their music collections separately, and explicit content can be blocked. The service will feature data from Alliance Entertainment's All Media Guide, as well as chat and instant-messaging applications.

One feature that will not be included is MusicNet. Despite signing a deal to distribute the MusicNet service last year, Napster CEO Konrad Hilbers says the company has no near-term plans to bundle it into its new offering. Instead, he says, Napster will negotiate individual content licensing deals with labels. Hilbers says Napster is close to settling the copyright-infringement suit brought against it by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and expects to have licensing deals with the major labels prior to full commercial launch, set for later in the first quarter.

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