MSN Reinvents Itself

Microsoft Network, pitching to position itself as the portal for the "everyday Web," today took the wraps off its revised vision for its floundering navigation hub.Microsoft, which is embracing the fourth major strategic direction for its MSN service in as many years, this time is focusing its efforts on casting itself as a platform for applications that Web users access on an everydaybasis.

Microsoft Network, pitching to position itself as the portal for the "everyday Web," today took the wraps off its revised vision for its floundering navigation hub.

Microsoft, which is embracing the fourth major strategic direction for its MSN service in as many years, this time is focusing its efforts on casting itself as a platform for applications that Web users access on an everyday basis.

"The Web is entering a new phase," said Rick Belluzzo, group vice president of Microsoft's Consumer and Commerce Group.

"We believe it is going to become an indispensable part of life."

Belluzzo, the former chief executive of SGI hired earlier this month to shepherd Microsoft's Internet efforts, outlined the company's Web strategy during a day-long press and analyst briefing being held today in downtown Seattle.

While the average Web user goes online once every 13 days, according to Microsoft consumer research, the company is aiming to provide services that will bring users back to the Web on a more consistent basis, Belluzzo said.

"It's about services," he said. "It's about delivering a whole new value proposition."

For today, at least, Microsoft was short on specifics on new Web initiatives that the company has not announced previously. Today's briefing was as much about charting MSN's vision for the coming year as it was about making news announcements, Belluzzo said.

Among the list of new initiatives is the introduction of a portal aimed primarily at small businesses called Microsoft bCentral, which builds on the capabilities from Microsoft's LinkExchange unit.

Microsoft Network, which has been signaling its move to focus on online applications for the better part of 1999, today also highlighted the increasing role that alternative devices will play in its efforts to deliver productivity applications anytime, anywhere.

In addition to developing applications, such as e-mail, universal registration and instant messaging for its MSN portal, the company also will become more aggressive in licensing versions of the large-scale applications to other Web site developers, said Brad Chase, vice president of Microsoft's Consumer and Commerce Group.

The company's goal is to stake a pre-eminent position as a provider of large-scale applications that can be licensed to outside partners who can not afford to develop over-arching applications on their own. Microsoft in particular is focusing efforts on in the areas of shopping, electronic commerce, communications, and search Chase said.

In November MSN plans to launch a shopping service that will allow users to search, compare and purchase selected merchandise online.

The company said today that it would license its MSN Messenger software to outside third parties who want to market instant messaging services under their own brand name.

"It's all about providing software and service blocks to outside third parties," Chase said.

"This goes back to our heritage as a platform company."

The goal of the large-scale application development is to extend a common framework for extending the capabilities of online communications and commerce to a broader set of Web sites, Chase said.

"That's how we make the Web as ubiquitous as the telephone but 1,000 times more useful," Chase said.

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