Analysts believe that Microsoft's new online service, which enables users to create personalised home pages, establish chat rooms and email each other, will be positioned head on against the software giant's latest enemy, America Online (AOL).
MSN Web Communities is still in beta testing, but enables customers to build home pages based on particular areas of interests. The communities can be public and listed in a community directory, or private with new members added by invitation only.
But analysts believe that Web Communities is part of Microsoft's ambitious plan to wrest control of the Internet service world from AOL, which markets a similar service called Hometown.aol.com.
A new bulletin from analysts, Zona Research, said: "Microsoft's leverageable value here is in throwing it open to a potential 40 million Hotmail users, establishing a guaranteed market presence for Passport. This may make it seem like the Swiss Army knife of strategic moves, but it makes sense overall."
It continued: "In the sumo wrestling match between AOL and Microsoft, Microsoft may have realised that the best place to gain market share on AOL is in all of those countries outside America."
The software giant claims that users do not need to know HTML to create their home pages because they can use toolbars and buttons and add multiple photos simultaneously using a photo uploader.
Customers register using Microsoft Passport, before creating or joining a community within services that support 23 languages. Passport users are given one member name and password to gain access to all participating Passport sites.
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