MSN (short for Microsoft Network and stylizing as msn) is a web portal and collection of Internet services provided by Microsoft and launched on August 24, 1995 to coincide with the release of Windows 95.
Microsoft has used the 'MSN' brand for a wide variety of products and services over the years, such as Hotmail (which is now Outlook.com), Messenger (which has been replaced by Skype) and its search engine (which is now Bing).
In large part, MSN was rebranded in 2005 to Windows Live, which saw the release of Windows Live Hotmail (previously Windows Live Mail) and Windows Live Messenger. Microsoft overhauled its online software and services in a climate of increasing competition from rivals such as Google, and Yahoo!. The Windows Live brand is currently being rolled out service-by-service, with rebranded services being classed as Beta tests initially. It is anticipated that the MSN service will aim at the personal and family user, whilst Windows Live will be a dedicated search facility for various media.
In the United States and Canada, MSN is not only a content provider and search engine, it is additionally an Internet Service Provider. With around 9 million subscribers, MSN is the second largest Internet Service Provider in the United States behind AOL service with about 26.5 million. In other countries, MSN uses underwriters for their services; in the UK, Microsoft use BT group.
The term "MSN" has come to be synonymous with MSN Messenger in Internet slang. To use MSN services, users must have a Windows Live ID account, an account system which allows access to all of the MSN facilities. One can sign-up using any e-mail address, and can then use personalized MSN and Windows Live features requiring the use of a Windows Live ID. These personalized features include My MSN, MSN Hotmail (now Windows Live Hotmail) and the ability to sign into Windows Live Messenger, and the now retired (as from Windows Vista) Windows Messenger. As of 2007, MSN has more than 225 million users.
In 2007 Microsoft plans to set up in Shanghai, China, a research and development center for MSN service. 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.
MSN was originally conceived as an online service provider in the vein of America Online, supplying local and proprietary content through an interface integrated into Windows 95's Windows Explorer.
The MSN group began life in the Advanced Technology Group, headed by Nathan Myhrvold and group was called AT-OLS (Advanced Technologies Online Systems) group.
Following the rapid adoption of the Internet, partly fueled by the built-in IP protocol capabilities of Windows 95, the service was then rebranded as "MSN Classic" and a new incarnation was created, known as "MSN 2.0," which combined access to the Internet with web-based proprietary content in the new "MSN Program Viewer." The MSN Program Viewer was essentially an animated, stylized and streamlined interface on top of an Internet Explorer engine. When users logged in, they'd be presented with a several different "Channels" which were essentially categories for the various types of content available on MSN.
The Program Viewer was accompanied by MSN Quick Launch, which say in the Windows Notification Area. Both had menus that could be dynamically updated to guide users to content.
The new content made extensive use of multimedia and interactive features, including VBScript and early implementations of Macromedia Flash for animations. Interactive multimedia content was presented in a TV-like format, dubbed "MSN Shows." The many "shows" and content sites included an interactive online week nightly game show called "Netwits," a snarky site addressing women's issues called "UnderWire," and a regular celebrity interview and Web-surfing session called "One Click Away." These new destinations supplemented reinvented, Web-based, highly interactive of original MSN content such as CarPoint and Expedia.
While the "MSN Shows" approach was unique and innovative, the content wasn't easily accessible by users with low-end computers and slower dial-up connections (broadband Internet access hadn't yet hit the mainstream). The aggressive adoption of multimedia content during the late nineties proved to be ahead of its time, as the service was not as successful as hoped. After abandoning the "Shows" format, the service was again rebranded—this time as a more traditional Internet service in the MSN 2.5 release, with some exclusive content. The MSN Program Viewer was essentially abandoned in favor of defaulting users to the regular, more-featured Internet Explorer interface.
In 1999, the largely underutilized MSN.com domain was reinvented as both a Web portal and as a brand for a family of sites produced inside Microsoft's Interactive Media Group (IMG) and put MSN in direct competition with sites such as Yahoo!. Because the new format opened up MSN's content to the world, for free, the subscription service was rebranded MSN Internet Access.
The new MSN.com had a whole family of sites, including originals, content channels that were carried over from shows (although no shows remained), and new features were rapidly added. MSN.com also became a successor to the default Internet Explorer start page which, previous to MSN.com's reinvention, went to Microsoft Internet Home (a.k.a. home.microsoft.com, or, internally, "hmc").
On February 14, 2000, MSN adopted its current multi-colored "butterfly" logo.
Microsoft has collaborated with many other service providers, as well as other Microsoft departments to expand the appeal of the Microsoft Network, examples include:
- Microsoft adCenter
- MSN Shopping — affiliated with eBay, PriceGrabber and Shopping.com
- MSN Encarta encyclopedia with various levels of access to information and cost.
In addition MSN Premium subscribers also receive:
Microsoft has found increasing competition from other service providers, such as Google and Yahoo! The recent launch of Google Earth was shortly followed by a similar offering from MSN. Suffice it to say, MSN, Yahoo! and Google are rapidly expanding the services they offer, and with little difference between them, except personal preference. Similarly, while MSN Premium does offer the use of Firewall, Virus and Spyware programs for free, other broadband providers also offer similar (or identical) services for their subscribers.
In 2006, the majority of MSN services and software were upgraded and re-branded with the new Windows Live name. This is part of Microsoft’s strategy to improve its online offerings through better services and software using the Windows brand name. MSN will then become only an online content provider through internet portals such as msn.com.
Windows Live will use new web technology to offer software-like features and functionality through one's web browser. This is evident with Windows Live Hotmail where a right-click menu can be used and the interface mimics that of Microsoft Outlook. Windows Live also accompanies Office Live which will offer business-oriented application service through an Internet browser.
Completed and speculated name changes:
- MSN Hotmail is now called Windows Live Hotmail,
- MSN Messenger is now called Windows Live Messenger,
- MSN Search is now called Live Search,
- MSN Virtual Earth is now called Microsoft Virtual Earth,
- MSN Mobile will become Windows Live Mobile,
- MSN Spaces are now called Windows Live Spaces, and
- MSN Alerts are now called Windows Live Alerts,
- MSN Winks are now called Windows Live Winks.
The future status of two current offerings, MSN Explorer and MSN Groups, is not currently public.
New services have been announced, such as Windows Live OneCare Safety Scanner and Windows Live Favorites.