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

Soapbox, which Microsoft unveiled last September, has been available to beta testers only by invitation for several months. But now anyone can test it out by going to this website, reports 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 categorise 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 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 said it would invest a significant amount of money in its web efforts.

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 email, instant messaging and search.

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