Five years ago: The changing face of online services

The top three online services are all being revamped

The three leading online services are to announce significant upgrades to their software this week. AOL, CompuServe and MSN are unveiling their new access software products and announcing new content deals over the next few days.

Microsoft's MSN service is unveiling the most significant facelift. Version 2.0 of the software gives the service a radical new feel which makes it appear completely different to existing online services and the Internet. The new software opens the door for a range of new content announcements and editorial content teams have been set up on both sides of the Atlantic. Microsoft is using the term "shows" to describe the new types of programming the service will offer and has recruited staff from the TV and movie industries on both sides of the Atlantic. The UK team is headed by Steve Billinger, formerly of Diverse Productions. A major event in the UK on Tuesday is expected to attract programme makers from the UK media industry.

CompuServe is unveiling WinCim 3.0, a complete overhaul of its Windows connectivity package. CompuServe's existing software has been criticised in the past for being too slow and the new release follows on from a major uphaul of the company's network.

AOL in the UK is releasing AOL 3.0. The new software offers a vast improvement over the existing package and includes advanced email facilities. The software also includes improved graphics handling. A US version of the software with a slightly different interface has been available for the last couple of months.

All three providers are responding to the recent growth in the Internet provider market. Meanwhile Virgin is to announce its entry into the UK Internet market tomorrow. Richard Branson's entertainment company is unveiling a dial-up Internet service with a full content service to follow next year. Subscribers will have access to a personalised newspaper service called Virgin Autonomy.

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