Two months ago Apple CEO Steve Jobs said his company’s iTunes online music store would begin selling unprotected tracks from major label EMI. Now, with just under 48 hours left in May, Apple has debuted iTunes Plus, starring EMI’s extensive catalog with no digital rights management in sight.

It was only February when Jobs posted his “Thoughts On Music,” where the Apple man decried copy protection technology for tracks sold online as a useless add-on mandated by the major labels. Two months later during a joint press conference, Apple and EMI announced iTunes would start hawking DRM-less tracks from the label in May.

The unprotected tracks, which come in the same AAC file format iTunes uses for the rest of its inventory, are encoded at 256 kbps and priced at $1.29 – 30 cents more than the standard, copy-protected songs iTunes is known for. But while individual tracks cost a bit more than iTunes’ usual fare, unprotected albums are still priced at $9.99.

Considering that record company executives have recently been blaming iTunes for the “death of the CD,” the same price for protected or unprotected albums on iTunes might entice customers to pop for the entire CD rather than just click and choose individual songs.

On the other hand, copy protection technology has been blamed (or credited) for helping to make Apple’s iPod the best-selling personal music player. Because Apple has never licensed its proprietary DRM technology, copy-protected tracks purchased on iTunes only play on iPods, while tracks purchased from stores using Microsoft’s WMA technology play on all players but the iPod.

Along with debuting iTunes Plus, Apple has initiated a program where customers can upgrade previous, copy-protected iTunes purchases to DRM-free tracks for 30 cents per song and $3.00 for most albums.

“Our customers are very excited about the freedom and amazing sound quality of iTunes Plus,” Jobs said. “We expect more than half of the songs on iTunes will be offered in iTunes Plus versions by the end of the year.”

But iTunes will not be the only store on the Net selling unprotected tracks from at least one major label. The EMI / Apple deal was nonexclusive, and Amazon has already announced it will launch a DRM-less online store featuring unprotected EMI tracks later this year.

While iTunes Plus is up and running, it appears Apple programmers are still working on a few last-minute glitches. Although the online store is promoting Paul McCartney’s catalog as one of the major EMI collections to go copy-free, including a direct link to the McCartney and Wings classic album Band On The Run, a search for Macca only brings back some of his post-Wings material. No Venus And Mars, Red Rose Speedway, or, for that matter, Ram. At least not during the first few hours iTunes Plus opened for business.

Then there’s the conspicuous absence of a certain EMI band from the 1960s known as The Beatles. But then, music from the Fab Four has yet to be licensed to any online store, so the Beatle-less online music universe remains intact for the moment.

But you will find Coldplay, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Norah Jones and plenty of EMI artists. What’s more, iTunes Plus has an option that, if checked, ensures that when there is an unprotected track offered, that track will appear in a search query result rather than its 99 cent copy-protected counterpart.

“This is a tremendous milestone for digital music,” said EMI Group CEO Eric Nicoli. “Consumers are going to love listening to higher quality iTunes Plus tracks from their favorite EMI artists with no usage restrictions.”