MSN

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This article is about the Internet service provider and web portal. For other uses, see MSN (disambiguation).
MSN
MSN Logo
 
Web address www.msn.com
Slogan More Useful Everyday
Commercial? Mixed
Type of site Web portal
Registration Optional
Owner Microsoft
Launched August 24, 1995
Alexa rank Steady 33 (April 2014)[1]
Current status Active

MSN (originally The Microsoft Network; stylized as msn) is a collection of Internet websites and services provided by Microsoft. The Microsoft Network debuted as an online service and Internet service provider on August 24, 1995, to coincide with the release of the Windows 95 operating system.[2]

The range of services offered by MSN has changed since its initial release in 1995. MSN was once a simple online service for Windows 95, an early experiment at interactive multimedia content on the Internet, and one of the most popular dial-up Internet service providers. Since 1998, MSN has primarily been a popular web portal.

Microsoft used the MSN brand name to promote numerous popular web-based services in the late 1990s, most notably Hotmail and Messenger, before reorganizing many of them in 2005 under another brand name, Windows Live.

MSN, the Internet service provider[edit]

MSN Classic[edit]

MSN Classic sign-in screen

The concept for MSN was created by the Advanced Technology Group at Microsoft, headed by Nathan Myhrvold. MSN was originally conceived as a dial-up online service and content provider like America Online, supplying proprietary content through an artificial folder-like interface integrated into Windows 95's Windows Explorer file management program. Categories on MSN appeared like folders in the file system.[3]

Then officially known as 'The Microsoft Network', the service launched along with Windows 95 on August 24, 1995. MSN was included with Windows 95 installations and promoted through Windows and other Microsoft software released at the time. Product support and discussion was offered through the MSN service, as well as information such as news and weather, basic e-mail capabilities, chat rooms, and message boards similar to newsgroups.

MSN 2.0[edit]

The MSN Preview on YouTube was a mock premiere event, with host 'Michael'
Feature demo in the MSN Preview
MSN 2.0 Program Viewer

In 1996, in response to the increasing relevancy and rapid growth of the World Wide Web, Microsoft renamed its existing MSN service to 'MSN Classic' and created a new version, called 'MSN 2.0', which combined access to the Internet with web-based multimedia content in a new program known as the 'MSN Program Viewer.'[4] The service was promoted to existing MSN subscribers beginning October 10, 1996; the general release followed on December 10, 1996.[5][6]

Microsoft promoted MSN 2.0 with a series of advertisements and promotional materials describing the service with the phrase, "Every new universe begins with a big bang." The company offered the initial release of the new MSN 2.0 service on a CD-ROM that it sent to MSN subscribers in the fall of 1996. When inserted, the CD-ROM opened to the ambitious and flashy 'MSN Preview', an interactive video-based experience that introduced current and prospective subscribers to the new version of MSN and described the features of the MSN 2.0 software.[7]

The MSN Preview was formatted as a guided tour of a mock premiere event for the new MSN. It was hosted by a witty and sarcastic character named 'Michael' who welcomed viewers outside of a theatre and then guided them through the theatre to meet several other characters, each of whom represented one of the channels of MSN 2.0's 'On Stage' area, which was designed as the main platform for interactive multimedia content in MSN 2.0.[7]

A handful of uncredited actors appeared in the MSN Preview, including then-unknown actress Anna Faris,[8][9] who represented 'Channel 5', which was described as "media, zines, attitude"; it was targeted at Generation X and college-age members. The preview also included its own jazz and pop music loop that played during the installation process.[10]

Once installed, members accessed MSN content through the MSN Program Viewer, which was essentially an animated, stylized and streamlined interface on top of an Internet Explorer 3.0 web browser. When members signed in, they would be presented with several different 'Channels', which were essentially categories for the various types of content available on MSN.

These channels included new services that launched in 1996 such as msnbc.com, a news website now known as NBCNews.com that began as a partnership between Microsoft and NBC; and Slate, an online magazine focused on politics and current events. Both websites were available to all Internet users and still exist today, although they are no longer owned by Microsoft.[5] Also integrated into MSN 2.0 shortly after its launch was Microsoft's popular Internet Gaming Zone, which later became MSN Games.

Interactive multimedia content was presented in a TV-like format, dubbed MSN shows, as part of the 'On Stage' section. The many shows and sites included an interactive online nightly game show called 'Netwits', a snarky web site addressing women's issues called 'UnderWire', and a regular celebrity interview and web-surfing session called 'One Click Away'.[11]

These new destinations supplemented other Microsoft web-based services such as CarPoint and Expedia, which were branded within MSN as 'Essentials'. An additional 'Communicate' section was based around e-mail, chat rooms (which were branded MSN Chat and moved to the standard IRC protocol), and newsgroups (which were moved to Usenet from a proprietary architecture), while a 'Find' section was dedicated to searching MSN content and the rest of the Internet; it also provided a calendar of upcoming events and new shows on MSN.[5]

The new content made extensive use of multimedia and interactive features, including VBScript and early implementations of Macromedia Shockwave Flash (originally called 'FutureSplash') for animations.[12]

While the MSN shows approach was unique and innovative, the content was not easily accessible by members with low-end computers and slower dial-up connections. High-speed Internet access was not widely available at the time, and some users subscribed to monthly dial-up plans that limited the number of hours during which they were allowed to access the service. The MSN 2.0 software was also unstable and would often quit unexpectedly.[10]

In addition to MSN 2.0's speed and stability issues, existing MSN subscribers were concerned the transition to MSN 2.0 would break up communities that were established via the MSN Classic message boards and chat rooms.[13] Their concerns were confirmed when Microsoft announced plans to close the entire MSN Classic service. As a result of all these issues, a web site called 'The Official msNOT Hate Site'[14] originated as a negative response to the new MSN 2.0 software. The site claimed Microsoft patently ignored feedback from concerned members and censored anyone who spoke out against the upgrade; it further charged the company's handling of the transition to MSN 2.0 was "insensitive and ethically questionable."[10] Microsoft denied it attempted to silence those who expressed concern about the upgrade.[15] The site also mocked the music loop that played during the MSN 2.0 installation process because it repeated the phrase "too stupid to stop."[10]

Ultimately, the ambitious use of web-based and interactive multimedia content on the Internet during 1996 and 1997 proved to be ahead of its time, and the MSN 2.0 service was not as successful as Microsoft initially hoped. The company returned to the drawing board for its next MSN release.[4][16][17]

MSN 2.5 through 5.0[edit]

In 1997, after abandoning the interactive multimedia format, the MSN service was again re-focused, this time as a more traditional Internet access service. With the release of MSN 2.5 (code named "Metro") in late 1997, some exclusive MSN branded content was still offered through the MSN Program Viewer, but the service mainly directed members to traditional text-based web sites that anyone on the Internet could access, instead of interactive shows.[18]

Beginning with MSN 2.5, e-mail service for MSN members was moved from a proprietary Microsoft Exchange environment that powered e-mail for both MSN Classic and MSN 2.0, to standard POP3 and SMTP protocols that could be accessed via any e-mail program, including Microsoft's own Internet Mail and News, which became Outlook Express with the introduction of Internet Explorer 4.0. Microsoft also launched 'Friends Online', a predecessor to the MSN Messenger Service that allowed MSN members to add each other as friends, see each other's online presence and send instant messages to one another.[19] Accompanying the MSN Program Viewer in MSN 2.5 was 'MSN Quick Launch', an icon inside the Windows notification area. Like the MSN Program Viewer in MSN 2.0, the menu in MSN Quick Launch could be dynamically updated to guide members to updated MSN content and services.

With the MSN Internet Access 2.6 release in 1998, the MSN Program Viewer was abandoned entirely in favor of the more familiar Internet Explorer. Another new version of the service, MSN Internet Access 5.0, was released along with Internet Explorer 5.0 in 1999. MSN 5.0 was largely identical to MSN 2.6.

Around this time, MSN began to focus on being a web portal to users of other Internet service providers. Building on the success of MSN's web-based e-mail service, Hotmail, which was acquired by Microsoft in December 1997, the MSN Messenger Service for instant messaging was launched in 1999.

MSN Explorer[edit]

Main article: MSN Explorer

By the release of Windows XP in 2001 (which also brought with it Internet Explorer 6.0), content for MSN Internet Access subscribers was offered through a program called MSN Explorer (MSN 6.0). This program was similar to the MSN Program Viewer in that it provided access to MSN websites, Hotmail, Messenger, and other MSN content through a customized interface on top of Internet Explorer. Upon the transition to MSN Explorer, e-mail for MSN members was integrated into Microsoft's Hotmail architecture and could be accessed from the web the same way as any other Hotmail account.

The program was rebranded as simply 'MSN' for versions 7, 8, and 9, which were released throughout the next few years. MSN 10 is the current version of the provider's special software for dial-up and premium Internet access.

MSN for Mac OS X[edit]

MSN for Mac OS X was a dial-up client interface to Microsoft's pay-for-access online services for Mac users. The software was, in some respects, comparable to the AOL dial-up client given its channel-based interface, built-in chat and instant messaging capabilities, parental controls, and ability to accommodate multiple screen names. It used the Tasman layout engine made for the Mac edition of Internet Explorer 5. It was discontinued in March 2005.

Upon the client software's discontinuation, Microsoft released this statement: "After May 31, 2005, customers will no longer access MSN service by using the MSN for Mac OS X Internet Software. Instead of accessing MSN services using the MSN for Mac OS X internet software, customers will access MSN services and features with their preferred browser and by setting up a My MSN page as a portal to their favorite online destinations."[20]

Microsoft continued to offer its Microsoft Messenger for Mac software, an instant messaging-only client which, unlike the bulkier MSN for Mac OS X, required only a free Microsoft account for use. Messenger is comparable to, although not compatible with, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

MSN Dial-up and Premium[edit]

In the United States and Canada, MSN still offers dial-up Internet service under the name 'MSN Dial-up'. MSN remains the second largest dial-up Internet service provider in the United States, behind dial-up leader AOL, which had retained about 10 million subscribers by the end of 2007.[21] MSN bundles its dial-up service with an e-mail account at MSN.com and security software such as firewall and anti-virus programs.[22] MSN subscribers were upgraded to the standard version of Hotmail in 2008, with additional storage capacity compared to free Hotmail users.

For customers with high-speed broadband Internet access, 'MSN Premium' is a subscription service provided by MSN which combines a number of different Internet services into a premium-service version of MSN Explorer. In order to use MSN Premium, users subscribe to the service through get.msn.com or by acquiring DSL through one of MSN's partners, such as Verizon or Qwest in the United States or Bell Internet in Canada. Microsoft also offered premium services with Verizon through the Windows Live brand name beginning in 2006.[23] The included MSN Premium software offers a customized interface similar to the dial-up software. Premium subscribers also receive a firewall and anti-virus software provided by McAfee and Spy Sweeper. On March 1, 2012, MSN Premium provided through Verizon Online was disbanded, and users could no longer use MSN Premium with Verizon.[24]

MSN, the web portal[edit]

MSN.com in October 1996

Internet Start[edit]

From 1995 to 1998, the MSN.com domain was used primarily to promote MSN as an Internet service provider. At the time, MSN.com also offered a custom start page and an Internet tutorial, but Microsoft's major web portal was known as 'Microsoft Internet Start,' located at home.microsoft.com. It served as the default home page for Internet Explorer and offered basic information such as news, weather, sports, stocks, entertainment reports, links to web sites on the Internet, articles by Microsoft staff members, and software updates. Microsoft's popular news web site, msnbc.com, which launched in 1996, was also tied closely to Microsoft Internet Start.

MSN.com[edit]

In 1998, the largely underutilized 'MSN.com' domain name was combined with Microsoft Internet Start and reinvented as both a web portal and as the brand for a family of sites produced inside Microsoft's Interactive Media Group. The new website put MSN in direct competition with sites such as Yahoo! and Go Network. Because the new format opened up MSN's content to the world for free, the Internet service provider and subscription service was renamed 'MSN Internet Access' at that time.[4]

The relaunched MSN.com contained a whole family of sites, including original content, channels that were carried over from web shows that were part of the 'MSN 2.0' experiment (although none of the actual shows remained), and new features that were rapidly added. MSN.com became a successor to the default Internet Explorer start page, as all of the previous 'Microsoft Internet Start' web site was merged with MSN.com.[4]

The former MSN logo used from 2000 to 2009

In the late 1990s, Microsoft collaborated with many other service providers, as well as other Microsoft departments, to expand the range of MSN's services. Some examples include Microsoft adCenter, MSN Shopping (affiliated with eBay, PriceGrabber and Shopping.com), and the Encarta encyclopedia with various levels of access to information.

Since then, MSN.com has remained a popular destination, launching many new services and content sites. MSN's Hotmail and Messenger services were promoted from the MSN.com portal, which provided a central place for all of MSN's content. MSN Search (now Bing), a dedicated search engine, launched in 1999. The single sign-in service for Microsoft's online services, Microsoft Passport (now Microsoft account), also launched across all MSN services in 1999. The MSN.com portal and related group of services under the 'MSN' umbrella remained largely the same throughout the first half of the next decade.

The sports section of the MSN portal was ESPN.com from 2001 to 2004, and FoxSports.com since 2004.[25][26] MSN had an exclusive partnership with msnbc.com for news content from 1996 until 2012, when Microsoft sold its remaining stake in msnbc.com to NBCUniversal and the website was renamed NBCNews.com. Since then, MSN has launched 'MSN News', an in-house news operation.[27]

MSN released a preview[28] of its new home page and logo on November 3, 2009. It was originally expected to be widely available to over 100 million U.S. customers by early 2010.[29][30] MSN rolled out its new logo,[31] coupled with a major redesign of the overall site, on December 25, 2009.[32]

MSN for Windows 8[edit]

Logo on the MSN for Windows 8 homepage

On October 1, 2012, MSN announced on its blog that it would be unveiling a new version of the MSN.com home page on October 26, exclusively for Windows 8, saying that the new version would be, "clean, simple, and built for touch."[33] Microsoft said that it would be more app-like due to the speed of Internet Explorer 10. More new features included 'Flip Ahead', which allowed users to "flip" from one article to another by swiping their finger. MSN for Windows 8 also had new deals with the AP and Reuters.[34]

Windows Live[edit]

Main article: Windows Live

Many of MSN's services were reorganized in 2005 and 2006 under a new brand name, Windows Live. This move was part of Microsoft's strategy to improve its online offerings using the Windows brand name. The company also overhauled its online software and services due to increasing competition from rivals such as Yahoo! and Google. The new name was introduced one service at a time. The group of Windows Live services used 'Web 2.0' technology to offer features and functionality through a web browser that were traditionally only available through dedicated software programs.

Some of the MSN services affected by the rebranding included MSN Hotmail, which became Windows Live Hotmail (now Outlook.com); MSN Messenger, which became Windows Live Messenger (now integrated into Skype); MSN Search, which became Live Search (now known as Bing); MSN Virtual Earth, which became Live Search Maps (now Bing Maps); MSN Spaces, which became Windows Live Spaces; MSN Alerts, which became Windows Live Alerts; and MSN Groups, which became Windows Live Groups. Some other related services, such as MSN Direct, remained a part of the MSN family without transitioning to Windows Live.

Following the launch of Windows Live, the MSN brand took on a different focus. MSN became primarily an online content provider of news, entertainment, and common interest topics through its web portal, MSN.com, while Windows Live provided most of Microsoft's online software and services. Beginning in 2012, Microsoft started to phase out the 'Windows Live' brand name, instead referring to each former Windows Live service separately by its individual brand name without any 'Windows' prefix or association (for example Outlook.com, OneDrive, and Office Online).[35]

Other services known as "MSN"[edit]

In addition to the Internet service provider and the web portal, the name "MSN" has been used for a number of related services. The two most popular of these are Hotmail and Messenger. For further information, see List of services by MSN.

Hotmail[edit]

Main article: Hotmail

Hotmail was a free web-based e-mail service by Microsoft. Originally started as an independent service in 1996, it became part of the MSN family in 1997. Since 2006, it was a part of Microsoft's Windows Live group of online services. Hotmail had over 380 million users worldwide and was available in 35 languages.[36] Microsoft phased out Hotmail and replaced it with Outlook.com in 2013.[37]

Messenger[edit]

MSN launched an instant messaging service in 1999 to compete with AOL Instant Messenger, which was originally known as 'MSN Messenger Service' and was later shortened to simply 'MSN Messenger'. The underlying technology later became known as '.NET Messenger Service' and then simply 'Messenger', while Windows Live Messenger was the name of the main program used to access the service beginning in 2006. Regardless, the term 'MSN' has come to be synonymous with the service in Internet slang. Microsoft phased out Messenger and integrated it into Skype in 2013.[38]

International services[edit]

Microsoft has extended its MSN services beyond the United States since 1995, partnering with local telecommunications companies and broadcast stations to provide service in numerous areas around the world. A list of international MSN affiliates is available at MSN Worldwide.

In Canada, MSN partnered with Bell Sympatico (the ISP division of Bell Canada) creating 'Sympatico / MSN'.[39] In Australia, Microsoft originally partnered with Telstra in 1995 with MSN branded locally as 'OnAustralia'. When Microsoft withdrew from the joint venture the following year, Telstra assumed 100% ownership and rebranded the service as BigPond. Microsoft subsequently partnered with the Nine Network to create 'ninemsn'. In Mexico, MSN partenered with Telmex' Prodigy creating 'Prodigy / MSN'.[40] An affiliation with Xtra, Telecom New Zealand's Internet provider ended in 2006 (see XtraMSN).[41]

MSN has many offices worldwide for national customer support. It utilizes the service of call centers around the world. Among the countries are the Philippines (technical and customer service), El Salvador (technical and customer support for Spanish-speaking customers), and India (customer service). In 2007, Microsoft set up a research and development center for MSN services in China, based in Shanghai's Zizhu Science Park. The center hosts a technical support team for MSN services.[42]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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