MSN sees Hotmail helping make Office for Net

Microsoft Network today said its purchase of the Hotmail free e-mail service would take it closer to its aim of providing an Office-like approach to the Internet.

"Our strategy is to offer services people want from the Net, and the two they want most are search and Web-based e-mail. With the recent deal with [HotBot search engine technology provider] Inktomi to offer search from MSN we provided the former, and now we cover the latter," said Oliver Roll, group marketing manager at MSN UK.

Roll added that the combined total of nine million Hotmail subscribers and 2.5 million MSN subscribers allowed it to pass AOL in terms of Web users. The Hotmail purchase certainly buys mind share and some impressive sounding numbers. 5.3 million Hotmail users (60 per cent of total subscribers) were active in last 30 days, and the service currently racks up 25 million daily page views and 1.6 million daily log-ins.

Although Hotmail users who are signed up to MSN can already access MSN mailboxes, Roll said more integration will make for more convenience.

"Hotmail users get easy access to a much broader range of services; MSN users get remote access to mail wherever they are in the world and from whatever Web access device they are using.

"Think of it like Office. MSN's goal is to be the Office of the Net. Just as users found it was easier to use Word and Excel when they were integrated, they will find it better to have a single point of access to all the best-of-breed Web services. This positions us as the only company with free e-mail and an ISP service. The important thing about Office is all the features are there because users want them to be; we're taking the same approach with MSN features."

Roll said that Microsoft wasn't heading towards only offering its own services, citing a link-up with the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the US. He also defended Microsoft's changing approach to online services after seeing MSN move from being proprietary to Web-based, and from TV-like content to information access and services.

"People weren't using the Web as an alternative to TV programmes that entertain," he said. "They want shopping, travel and investment and we're absolutely convinced we'll generate very high revenues in the future by offering exactly these services. Revenues will come from advertising, transactions and sponsorship. We want online to be our fourth core business after operating systems, applications and BackOffice.

"Everyone's obsessed with number of subscribers but Web access is completely fragmented. What's more important is how many people access your site. It won't matter where you get your access from. We will never get out of the access business. We may not provide that access ourselves or do the billing and support, but you will always be able to go through us to get Web access."

MSN UK staffing has remained steady at about 40 while the service now has about 150,000 users. Roll wants that number to grow to about 240,000 by June.