MSN (internet service provider)

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This article is about the Internet service provider. For the web portal, see MSN.
Division of Microsoft
Industry Internet
Founded August 24, 1995
Products Dial-up internet services
Owner Microsoft

MSN is an internet service provider operating in the United States. It is a division of Microsoft, and launched in 1995. MSN provides dial-up internet access, and includes the MSN Explorer software.


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.[1]

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 email 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.'[2] The service was promoted to existing MSN subscribers beginning October 10, 1996; the general release followed on December 10, 1996.[3][4]

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.[5]

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.[5]

A handful of uncredited actors appeared in the MSN Preview, including then-unknown actress Anna Faris,[6][7] 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.[8]

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, a news website now known as 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.[3] 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'.[9]

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 email, 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.[3]

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.[10]

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.[8]

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.[11] 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'[12] 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."[8] Microsoft denied it attempted to silence those who expressed concern about the upgrade.[13] 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."[8]

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.[2][14][15]

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.[16]

Beginning with MSN 2.5, email service for MSN members was moved from a proprietary Microsoft Exchange environment that powered email for both MSN Classic and MSN 2.0, to standard POP3 and SMTP protocols that could be accessed via any Internet email program, including Microsoft's own Internet Mail and News, which became Outlook Express with the introduction of Internet Explorer 4.0. MSN also launched 'Friends Online', a predecessor to the MSN Messenger Service that allowed members to add each other as friends, see each other's online presence and send instant messages to one another.[17] 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 email service, Hotmail, which was acquired by Microsoft in December 1997, the MSN Messenger Service for instant messaging was launched in 1999. Unlike the 'Friends Online' service that required an MSN membership, anyone with a free Microsoft Passport or Hotmail account could use MSN Messenger.

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, email 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."[18]

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.[19] MSN bundles its dial-up service with an email account at and security software such as firewall and anti-virus programs.[20] 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 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.[21] 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.[22]

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'.[23] 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 partnered with Telmex Prodigy creating 'Prodigy / MSN'.[24] An affiliation with Xtra, Telecom New Zealand's Internet provider, known as XtraMSN ended in 2006.[25]

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 China, based in Shanghai's Zizhu Science Park. The center hosts a technical support team for MSN services.[26]


  1. ^ "First Look: The Microsoft Network, by Robert J. Ambrogi". Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  2. ^ a b "MSN works to find its focus". Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  3. ^ a b c "New Web-Based Version of The Microsoft Network Debuts - October 10, 1996". 1996-10-10. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  4. ^ "Microsoft Announces General Availability of The Microsoft Network - December 10, 1996". Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  5. ^ a b "First Look: MSN Preview video from 1996". Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  6. ^ Dave Curry - Blog Archive - Spümco’s Weekend Fur Hunt[dead link]
  7. ^ "The Ultimate Anna Faris Experience: MSN 2.0 Preview". Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  8. ^ a b c d the DDJ staff, February 01, 1997 (1997-02-01). "Dr. Dobb's News & Views 2/1/97: MSN2 Alienates MSN Members". Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  9. ^ "Website Review: 'The Microsoft Network'". Entertainment Weekly. 1996-11-29. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  10. ^ "Behind the Scenes at MSN 2.0: Architecting an Internet-Based Online Service". Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  11. ^ "CNET Mixed bag for MSN - November 20, 1996". 1996-12-30. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  12. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". 1996-12-21. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  13. ^ "New York Times: Disgruntled MSN Members Launch Site to Air Grievances - November 23, 1996". New York Times. 1996-11-23. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  14. ^ "The Microsoft Network Previews Service Upgrade". 1997-07-21. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  15. ^ Burr, Ty (1998-03-20). "Entertainment Weekly - Digital News: MSN Unplugged - March 20, 1998". Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  16. ^ "The Microsoft Network Announces Significant Service Upgrade Backed by "Million Dollar Madness" Sweepstakes". Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  17. ^ "Microsoft upgrades MSN to version 2.5". Paul Thurrott. 1997-07-30. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  18. ^ "Microsoft to kill MSN for the Mac". ZDNet. 
  19. ^ Linda Rosencrance (2007-11-08). "AOL revenue, subscribers plummet". ComputerWorld. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  20. ^ MSN Dial-up: A better way to connect: faster, safer, and smarter.
  21. ^ "Verizon and Microsoft Expand Alliance to Provide Windows Live Services for High-Speed Internet Subscribers". Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  22. ^ "Verizon Transition: FAQ". Microsoft. Retrieved 26 March 2014. 
  23. ^ "". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  24. ^ "". 1999-12-31. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  25. ^ "MSN Worldwide". 1999-12-31. Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  26. ^ "Microsoft's Research and Development Center in China". Retrieved 2012-05-01. 

External links[edit]