Spotify is a web-based music service that lets you listen to anything in its catalogue for free, provided that you don't mind your aural pleasure being occasionally interrupted by adverts.

It's picked up a lot of press coverage of late, not least because Spotify brought The Beatles to the desktop - something Apple spectacularly failed to do with iTunes. It's even been hailed by some as iTunes' successor.

Earlier this year, Spotify ended its stipulation that new UK users could join by invite only. This is partly why the service is seen to have gained in popularity overnight, but this can also be credited to its copy protection-free tracks.

Spotify can be used wherever there's a Wi-Fi connection or 3G signal. The service requires only a 256K connection, so you don't need broadband to enjoy it. And Spotify for iPods, iPhones and any brand of MP3 player or mobile phone you like is next on its developer's to-do list.

In the meantime, you can buy tracks you like from 7Digital. Songbird has also signed up, while iPod owners can make use of an embedded iTunes link to buy albums.

For many people, the concept of being able to listen to long-lost songs from their youth - or simply to access and enjoy for free music by less mainstream artists - is where the excitement lies. And Spotify lets you make your own playlists and then share them with friends.

If all this sounds familiar, that's because it is. Elements of Spotify can be seen in Last.fm, while it was Napster that first sold the idea of streaming music on an all-you-can-eat monthly basis.

Finally, there's another good reason why Spotify is beloved of music and tech fans: it's a lightweight, interactive app that you can use with your Facebook, Twitter and blog accounts, giving you something to tweet about, as well as to hum along to.

We get you started using the service.

1. Head to spotify.com/en and decide which type of account you'd like. There's a choice of a free but advert-supported version, a Day Pass that costs 99p or a Premium month-long subscription costing £9.99. We chose the free version and, to be honest, haven't found the adverts at all troubling.

Spotify: step 1

2. Next, create your Spotify account. Enter your username and email details. You'll get an onscreen confirmation that your account has been created before being prompted to download the installer. Click Download now and save the .exe file, then Run it. Vista users will be prompted to okay this.

Spotify: step 2

3. A small Spotify login box will appear onscreen. Sign in. Usually, you'll now see a grey music manager that looks similar to Apple's iTunes interface. First-timer users will find this overlaid with a Welcome splash screen. To disable this, remove the tick next to ‘Show this window when Spotify starts'.

Spotify: step 3

4. Suggested listening is shown on this main page. If anything on offer takes your fancy, click the album icon to bring up a track list. If nothing appeals, either press the Home button at the top left to return to the main screen or initiate a search for an artist, album or specific track using the search field just above it.

Spotify: step 4

5. Previous searches are listed on the left. Should this list get unwieldy, you can right-click on an entry to delete it. A list of similar artists appears at the top right. This can help you find other artists in the same vein, but is also useful for extending the repertoire of music you listen to.

Spotify: step 5

6. Right-clicking a track allows you to add it to a playlist; select ‘Save to', then your chosen playlist. Alternatively, right-click a track and add it to the ‘Play queue' function on the main Spotify screen. To reorder queue items, drag-and-drop items in the list. The queue will be deleted when you shut down Spotify.

Spotify: step 6

7. The Radio button gives quick access to music of a set style. Choose a genre that appeals, then use the slider at the top of the Radio screen to set the parameters for the decades that interest you. As with the music library, you can tag items you enjoy on the radio and save them as a playlist or queue.

Spotify: step 7

8. Spotify can do a better job of identifying music you'll like if you let it ‘scrobble'. Scrobbling involves telling Last.fm what you've listened to; that program then works out what you're into. Go to Edit, Preferences and tick ‘Enable scrobbling to Last.fm'. You may need to adjust the settings for the proxy server first.

Spotify: step 8

9. Although you can log into Spotify from multiple locations, you can't do so simultaneously; if a friend logs into your account to listen to your favourites, then playback will be halted. But there are better ways to share the music you've found. Publicly shared lists can be found on the Top Lists tab.

Spotify: step 9

10. A safer way to share music is to send a link by email or IM. Drag the track, album or playlist into the body of the message and Spotify will generate a link to it. You can also right-click a track and choose ‘Copy Spotify URI'. To listen to your recommendations, your friend simply needs to log into their Spotify account.

Spotify: step 10

11. Another option is to share a playlist that others can comment on and contribute to. Simply right-click a playlist and choose ‘Collaborative Playlist'. Bear in mind that Spotify Free works only in the UK, Sweden, France, Spain and Finland at present, so friends outside these countries can't join in.

Spotify: step 11

12. If you're particularly keen to expand your music listening, Feelinglistless suggests subscribing to music-related RSS and blog feeds. Often, an artist is reviewed one day, then their music appears on Spotify a day later. You can also request additions at weekendlabs.se/index.php.

Spotify: step 12

13. Spotify add-ons have started appearing - mixtapes have a kooky retro appeal with their ‘made it myself' appeal, for instance. If you're a Facebook user, search under Applications and you'll find something called Mixifier. You need to allow Mixifier access to your Facebook account.

Spotify: step 13

14. Add your own mixtapes to Mixifier by entering their http codes. As with Spotify, you can view popular, brand-new or highly rated playlists or search within the listings. Click a playlist heading to bring up options to play it or to send it to Facebook friends - just enter their names to do so.

Spotify: step 14