Microsoft plans to create a new home page to help it achieve dominance on the Net.
The move signals a shift of focus from online services - embodied in the Microsoft Network - towards the free Web, in order to increase traffic and pump up advertising revenues.
?Our online service has evolved over time,? said Shirish Nadkarni, director of product planning at MSN. ?In the past, MSN focused on a complete package with premium content. Now users are more sophisticated and there is much more activity in the free space - we intend to focus on the free Web. It?s the next evolution of our strategy to help people accomplish important activities offline and online.?
But Microsoft denied this was a first step to getting out of the Internet access business altogether. Analysts have speculated that Microsoft will eventually sell MSN to focus on the free Web, but a spokesperson for the company said: ?MSN offers a premium service and Microsoft will continue to offer it.?
Dubbed Microsoft Start, the home page will bring together all the Web facilities offered by MS, including the Inktomi search engine that it acquired last year, a Web directory, the recently purchased free email service Hotmail, as well as full links to all of Microsoft?s sites, and a customised front page.
Nadkarni revealed that the goal of the directory and enginer will be ?to help people quickly and easily find the resources that get things done. We want people to get the best results, not the most results.?
There is speculation that Microsoft Start will eventually replace Microsoft?s two other sites - the corporate 'home.microsoft.com.' and 'MSN.com'. But it will not replace MSN as a dial-up and premium membership network - it will simply be the first page MSN members visit when they log on.
?Microsoft Start will be the next generation of those sites,? confirms Nadkarni. ?It will scale up in terms of traffic and there will be added functionality to the site. Over time it will become the entry point for a lot of properties for Microsoft.?
Nadkarni stresses that Microsoft Start, which goes into closed beta testing next week, will not be fully launched until the company is satisfied with ?reliability after the site is tested under lots of traffic? by 40,000 people. ?We will refine the site based on users' feedback.?
After the full launch, the Internet Explorer browser will be programmed to point to Start as its default home page.
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