A reincarnated Microsoft Network (MSN) opened for business yesterday with the company gambling that its revamped TV channel format will appeal to ?couch potatoes? more than traditional online service offerings.
The idea behind the revamp is to attract potential customers who are more accustomed to soaking up information and entertainment passively from TV than having to read through text and search Web pages. The new version relies far more on video and audio transmission of information, a change made possible by exploiting Microsoft's ActiveX technology.
But the revamped offering attracted ferocious criticism from industry strategist George Gilder, author of the monthly 'Gilder Technology Report', who described ventures like MSNBC - a joint Internet-cable site created with General Electric's TV channel NBC - as "pure lunacy". Speaking at a Forbes Technology Symposium in Seattle, Gilder said: "I think Microsoft is making a mistake collaborating with television and moving into content production."
While conceding Bill Gates' ability to transform his company, Gilder went on to argue that Microsoft faced a clash of operational priorities with this latest move. "Maybe they?re going to have to divide at some point into a content arm and an operating software arm," he suggested.
Microsoft has sent out 250,000 CD-Roms to MSN users to enable them to upgrade the existing service. Laura Jennings, Microsoft vice president in charge of MSN, said the service had over 1.6 million users, adding: "We are making CD-Roms like there is no tomorrow." The company hopes that the new MSN will double the installed base, allowing Microsoft to overtake Compuserve in the market and leaving only America Online ahead of it.
Users coming to the overhauled MSN meet an opening page, On Stage, which carries icons leading to six TV-style channels. These lead to services such as an online women?s magazine, a soap opera and Continuum, a Star Trek archive for Trekkies. It also takes subscribers to other Microsoft media sites, including MSNBC.
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