|The Microsoft Network|
|Type of site||Portal|
MSN (The Microsoft Network) is a collection of Internet 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.
The range of services offered by MSN has changed significantly since its initial release in 1995. Many of Microsoft's popular web-based services, such as Hotmail and Messenger, were originally offered by MSN before being reorganized as part of Microsoft's Windows Live group of online services. MSN's Internet portal, MSN.com, offers a wealth of content and is currently the 5th most visited domain name on the Internet.
 MSN Classic
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 content provider like America Online, supplying proprietary content through an artificial folder-like interface integrated into Windows 95's Windows Explorer file management program.
Then officially known as "The Microsoft Network," the service launched along with Windows 95 on August 24, 1995. The service 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 basic e-mail capabilities, basic information such as news from MSNBC, chat rooms, and newsgroups.
Open access to the World Wide Web was not originally included in the classic MSN service, but Internet access was offered through Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser, which was available as a download from the MSN service or as part of the Windows 95 Plus! package.
 MSN 2.0
In 1996, in response to the increasing relevancy and growth of the Internet, the existing MSN service was renamed "MSN Classic" and a new version was created, known as "MSN 2.0," which combined access to the Internet with web-based proprietary content in a new program known as the "MSN Program Viewer."
Microsoft promoted MSN 2.0 with a series of advertisements and promotional materials describing the service as the "next big bang." The company offered a preview release of the service on CD-ROM in the fall of 1996, which contained an MSN Preview video that described the new features of the MSN 2.0 software. The video was formatted as a guided tour of a premiere event for the new MSN. It included a handful of actors and its own music score that played during the installation process.
Once installed, the MSN Program Viewer 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 a several different "Channels," which were essentially categories for the various types of content available on MSN.
Accompanying the MSN Program Viewer was MSN Quick Launch, an icon inside the Windows notification area. Both programs had menus that could be dynamically updated to guide members to MSN content and services.
The new content made extensive use of multimedia and interactive features, including Visual Basic scripting and early implementations of Macromedia Shockwave Flash (originally called "FutureSplash") for animations. Interactive multimedia content was presented in a TV-like format, dubbed "MSN shows," as part of a section called "On Stage."
The many "shows" and content sites included an interactive online week 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." These new destinations supplemented web-based MSN services such as CarPoint and Expedia, which were branded as "Essentials."
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, and high-speed Internet access was not widely available at the time. An entire web site, "MSNot: The MSN2 Hate Site," originated as a negative response to the slow speed and unreliability of the software. The site also mocked the music score that repeated the phrase "too stupid to stop" during the MSN 2.0 installation process.
Ultimately, the ambitious use of 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.
 Less ambitious attempts
In 1997, after abandoning the "shows" format, the MSN service was again rebranded, this time as a more traditional Internet access service. With the MSN 2.5 release in late 1997, some exclusive content was still offered through the MSN Program Viewer, but the service mainly directed members to "normal" web sites. 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 interface. 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 focusing more on being an Internet portal to users of other Internet service providers. Building on the success of MSN's web-based email service, Hotmail, which launched in 1996, the MSN Messenger service for instant messaging was launched in 1999.
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 was similar to the MSN Program Viewer in that it provided MSN web sites and content through a customized interface on top of Internet Explorer. The program was rebranded as simply "MSN" for versions 7, 8, and 9, which were released throughout the next few years. MSN 9 was the last version of MSN's special software for dial-up Internet access.
 In recent years
In the United States and Canada, MSN is still a dial-up Internet service provider. MSN remains the second largest Internet service provider in the United States, behind dial-up leader AOL, which had retained about 10 million subscribers by the end of 2007. MSN bundles its dial-up service with an e-mail account at MSN.com and security software such as firewall and anti-virus programs.
For broadband customers, MSN has partnered with Verizon, Qwest, and Bell Sympatico to offer high-speed Internet access. Verizon, Qwest and Bell provide the broadband connection and directly bill their customers. The included MSN software, known as "MSN Premium," offers a customized interface similar to the MSN 9 dial-up software and security features similar to the Windows Live OneCare security package. New Verizon customers may not subscribe to MSN Premium, only Windows Live. Existing MSN Premium customers who change to Windows Live may not revert back to MSN Premium because Microsoft is phasing it out.
 MSN, the Internet portal
 Internet Start
From 1995 to 1998, the MSN.com domain was used 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 Internet 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 1995, was also tied closely to Microsoft Internet Start.
In 1998, the largely underutilized MSN.com domain name was reinvented as both an Internet portal and as a brand for a family of sites produced inside Microsoft's Interactive Media Group. The new site 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.
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 also 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.
Since then, MSN.com has remained a popular destination, launching many web services and new 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 and related web sites. MSN Search, a dedicated search engine for the portal, launched in 1999. The MSN.com portal and related group of services under the "MSN" umbrella remained largely the same throughout much of the next decade.
 Windows Live
Many of MSN's services were reorganized in 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. Windows Live uses "Web 2.0" technology to offer features and functionality through a web browser that were traditionally only available through a dedicated software program.
Among the services affected by the rebranding were MSN Hotmail (now called Windows Live Hotmail), MSN Messenger (now called Windows Live Messenger), MSN Search (now called Live Search), MSN Virtual Earth (now called Live Search Maps), MSN Spaces (now called Windows Live Spaces), and MSN Alerts (now called Windows Live Alerts) and in the future, MSN Groups will be rebranded as Windows Live Groups. Microsoft has also not established if MSN Direct will remain a part of the MSN family or transition to Windows Live. Since the introduction of Windows Live, some new services have been announced, such as Windows Live OneCare Safety Scanner and Windows Live Favorites.
After the launch of Windows Live, the focus of MSN shifted to an online news, entertainment, and common interest content provider through its Internet portal, MSN.com, while Windows Live now provides most of Microsoft's online software and services.
 Other services known as "MSN"
- In addition to the Internet service provider and the Internet 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 MSN services.
Hotmail is a free web-based email service by Microsoft. Originally started as an independent service in 1996, it became part of the MSN family in 1997. Since 2006, it has been part of Microsoft's Windows Live group of online services. Hotmail has over 380 million users worldwide and is available in 35 different languages.
MSN launched an instant messaging service in 1999 to compete with AOL Instant Messenger. The service was originally known as "MSN Messenger Service," and was later shortened to simply "MSN Messenger." Today, the underlying technology is known as ".NET Messenger Service," while the program used to access the service is called "Windows Live Messenger." Regardless, the term "MSN" has come to be synonymous with the messenger service in Internet slang. As of 2008, the messenger service has more than 225 million users.
 Affiliated services
 Cross-branded services
Microsoft has 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 MSN Encarta encyclopedia with various levels of access to information. In addition, MSN Internet Access subscribers have also received MSN Firewall and MSN Virus Guard provided by McAfee, and the Webroot Spy Sweeper for MSN. These services are similar to those offered by other Internet service providers.
 International services
Globally, MSN has good reception, partnering with local TV stations and telecommunications companies to provide service in some areas. In Canada, MSN has partnered with Bell Sympatico (the ISP division of Bell Canada). In Australia, the Nine Network has partnered with MSN to create "ninemsn." In Mexico, MSN has partenered with Telmex' Prodigy creating Prodigy / MSN. An affiliation with Xtra, Telecom New Zealand's Internet provider ended in 2006 (see XtraMSN).
MSN has many offices worldwide for customer support. It utilizes the service of call centers around the world. Among the countries are Philippines (technical and customer service), El Salvador (Spanish - technical and customer support), and India (customer service). Currently, MSN sees the Philippines as having the most competitive customer support for customers, awarding Philippine BPOs the "MSN Universal Project," which agents support combined technical, customer service, and billing support.
In 2007, Microsoft set up a research and development center for MSN services in Shanghai, China. It will be the company's first center of such kind situated outside of the United States. Being based in Shanghai's Zizhu Science Park, the research and development center will develop Internet software. Its set up is estimated at $20 million. Microsoft, in the new center, will have a technical support team for its MSN service. In the future, the company hopes MSN Messenger will play an important role in everyday life of Chinese teenagers and young professionals. Several setbacks caused Microsoft to create its own facility for MSN service. One of such setback is the resignation of Luo Chuan, who headed the Windows Live unit in China and who was also responsible for Chinese MSN portal.