Microsoft Throws Down the MSN 8 Gauntlet

Microsoft pulled out all the entertainment stops to launch its MSN 8 Internet-access software on Thursday.

NEW YORK—Microsoft may not be a media company, but the company pulled out all the entertainment stops to launch its MSN 8 Internet-access software and service here on Thursday.

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates announced at the Central Park roll-out that Walt Disney and Microsoft are launching a co-branded "Disney on MSN" Internet service. Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner appeared briefly on stage at the MSN 8 launch event to announce the deal.

Eisner emphasized the "family-safe" appeal of MSN 8 as one of the main elements that helped convince Disney to throw its lot in with MSN. Disney signed its first deal with MSN a year ago for ESPN content for MSN.

Rock star Lenny Kravitz also was on hand to entertain MSN 8 launch attendees.

"We understand we are not a media company," Gates told the 600 or so reporters, analysts and invited guests, who filled an inflatable dome that Microsoft used as its launch site. Gates said Microsoft will rely on its partners to develop "channel" content for MSN, while it focuses on developing the software.

Gates seldom mentioned MSN rival America Online by name during the launch event. But AOL Time Warner made it clear at the roll-out of its AOL 8 service last week that Time Warner intends to use AOL 8 as a launch pad for integrating all of its myriad TV, movie, magazine and other entertainment properties.

Microsoft executives highlighted MSN 8s new browsing, communications and parental control features as key to the release, which Microsoft made widely available for download and distribution starting today.

Last week, AOL highlighted many of the same enhancements as central to its own Internet-access product.

But there are marked differences in the way the two companies—AOL the 37-million-user Goliath and Microsoft, the 9-million-user David—are attacking the Internet-access space.

MSN is playing up its e-mail client as central to its service. Microsoft is including many of the same type of robust e-mail features in MSN 8 as it has in its Outlook Express product. The MSN 8 e-mail client uses Hotmail servers on the backend for e-mail support.