Microsoft Corp.s MSN division has a lot on its plate.
The MSN team, like all Microsoft product units, works simultaneously on different versions of its services. The developers working on the next release of MSN, due out in early 2004, are falling a bit behind schedule. Meanwhile, the ones working on a release of MSN designed to be part of the "Longhorn" wave of products due in 2006, are pushing full-steam ahead.
Microsoft announced earlier this summer that it planned to introduce two flavors of MSN 9: MSN Premium and MSN Plus. Microsoft said in August to expect MSN Premium to go live "this winter," and MSN Plus to debut somewhat earlier, before the end of calendar 2003.
MSN execs recently told PCMag.com that MSN Premium will debut on Jan. 8, 2004, which still falls within the "winter" timeframe. But execs confirmed to Microsoft Watch that MSN Plus is not going to ship until some time in the first quarter of 2004. The execs declined to pin a firm date on when MSN Plus will go live.
MSN Premium will include photo- and calendar-sharing services; more parental control features; and a pop-up guard to allow users to control how they receive ads. Microsoft also plans to provide extra storage (25 MB worth) and support for up to 10 e-mail accounts to MSN Premium subscribers. MSN Premium will cost $9.95 for users who want to run the service on top of their existing broadband; or between $39.95 and $49.95 for those who want to obtain the service plus broadband from a Microsoft ISP partner, according to the company.
Microsoft has been less forthcoming about MSN Plus, other than to say it will be a stripped-down version of Premium. It is expected to include solely core e-mail, browsing and communications features. The fourth beta of MSN Plus went out to testers in late October, according to BetaNews.com. MSN officials have declined to talk about MSN Plus expected price.
Longhorn Live on the Way
MSN Premium and Plus arent the only versions of MSN in the works, however.
The MSN team is developing a release of the service that will be one of the many Microsoft products timed to be part of the Longhorn wave. The MSN 2006 service — currently code named "Longhorn Live" — will look and feel a lot more like Xbox Live than the current MSN generation, according to sources close to the company.
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