iTunes Match was opened up to the public today (you'll need to update your iTunes). The simplest way to describe iTunes Match is that it makes it easy for you to back up your music collection (iTunes and all other music in your library) to the Apple iCloud suite. The service makes your music available to any iOS device (iPod, iPad, iPhone) or any computer with iTunes (Mac/Windows).

You may have heard of Google Music or Amazon's Cloud Player. These services also are ways to get your library into the cloud so how it this different? It is the result of Apple's acquisition of the Lala music service. The greatest feature that Apple picked up in this acquisition is the ability to scan your library and determine if they already have a copy of each song. This cuts down on the amount of music that you have to upload to the cloud and, thus, cuts down on any potential bandwidth overages (if applicable) and saves you some time when pushing your music to the cloud (since this can sometimes have an adverse affect on your network connection and/or the computer that is uploading). Another great benefit is that if you ripped your CDs at a lower quality (like I did with some CDs back when storage wasn't as ubiquitous) they will give you higher-quality 256 Kbps AAC songs with no copy protection when you pull any songs back down from the iCloud. I don't think that they automatically upgrade songs that are already on your machines but I will be checking that when the whole process is over.

So, given that, should you just use iCloud? Well, if you only have Apple devices and you aren't worried about streaming without storing the music on your device then this may suit your needs for a reasonable $25 per year. If you don't like iTunes, then you either have to work with it for the benefit or go with a different option. If you have a mixed environment, then it may be a different story. Since I have a mixed environment (iOS, Mac, Linux, Android) I am going to plan on utilizing iCloud as well as Google Music. I have also pushed my music to Amazon but am not incredibly impressed with their offering so far. Google Music will allow me to have my music on my Android devices and to stream to any machine. iCloud will allow me to sync all of my music between my Macs/iOS and push to the Google Music cloud (since my music library has been migrated to my Macs). It is worth noting that Spotify provides a hybrid approach but it is a bit more expensive ($10/ month for premium where you'd get the offline features, $5 for streaming only). The thing I don't like about their offline approach is that it seems to require you to use playlists for syncing and I haven't ever gotten to a point where I wanted to create playlists for all of my songs.

How fast does the process go? Well, I started my iTunes Match process a couple of hours ago. Thus far, it has run through the library on one of my machines (you can only run one machine at a time and there is a limit of 10 devices), has matched about 3500 songs, and has gotten through the upload process for about 100 of the 1100 songs that it couldn't match in the iTunes Store. This is pretty great considering that it took days for Google Music and Amazon Cloud Drive.

I'm happy to see all of these options popping up. As time goes one, I'm sure we'll see all of these services improve. It looks like Google has something up its sleeve that it will talk about on Wednesday!