Microsoft Corp. is readying a new, more .Net-enabled version of MSN that will showcase some of the first Web services the company is developing.
A beta version of MSN 7 is visible on Microsofts MSN beta Web site, http://beta.msn.com.
Microsoft officials did not return calls by press time regarding when the beta went live and when the final version of the updated MSN can be expected.
The beta of the new MSN features a new tab design that closely mimics the one at the heart of the recently redesigned Microsoft Hotmail service. Also clearly visible is a new tab, one that says "Sign In" with a .Net logo and leads users to Microsofts Passport single log-on facility.
With the MSN 7 beta, Microsoft is paving the way for other .Net services to be more readily accessible directly from the MSN home page. For example, the new MSN beta includes a "Share Photos" link that takes users to the MSN Photos page. There, users can upload and share their digital camera photos. Microsoft has said in the past that one of the services it is building as part of its .Net My Services (formerly code-named Hailstorm) lineup is .Net Photos. .Net Photos is not one of the initial set of Hailstorm services, betas of which Microsoft is expected to make available to developers this fall, but will be delivered at a later, unspecified date.
The MSN Calendar feature is likely to morph into the .Net Calendar time and task management facility that will be part of the initial set of .Net My Services Microsoft rolls out. So, too is the MSN TV Listings link likely to evolve, over time, into a Web-services equivalent of the same. Microsoft has talked about providing some kind of .Net TV service as one of the more advanced .Net My Services offerings.
Microsoft is doing more with the newest version of MSN than just making services more readily accessible from the home page. The new beta also separates the customized section of MSN.com from the main home page, like Yahoo does now with My Yahoo. To view the personalized content, users of the new MSN will click on the "My MSN" tab, which is not yet functional. In previous versions of MSN.com, the personalized content as well as the basic MSN.com links and information, akin to AOLs "Welcome screen," were all merged on a single page.
Microsoft also appears to be exploring new methods of generating ad revenue with the forthcoming MSN, including featuring a one-line text ad at the very top of the page.
"MSN is already competitive, and at first glance, it looks like layout and design is cleaner, slicker," said Hurwitz Group analyst Evan Quinn. "It looks like a clearer user of portals." In addition, he added, the MSN 7 looks to be "better organized and there seem to be more services."
Microsofts new MSN beta comes on the heels of the release by America Online of Beta 4114.83 of AOL 7. AOL 7 will feature improved instant messaging and e-mail, a cleaner design, and improvements to the broadband content available on the service.
AOL is also currently developing and deploying its own competitor to Microsofts Passport. Code-named Magic Carpet, the service lets AOL, AOL Instant Messenger, and CompuServe users use their existing screen name and password to sign-in at many AOL-partner web sites. The Web-based Magic Carpet service has not been officially announced by AOL.
"As you know, we are working on MSN 7 and we did begin the process of beta testing the redesigned home page September 28th," said Michelle Marin, a Microsoft spokesperson in Bellevue, Wash. "Based on user feedback, the home pages new look and feel is designed to be more useful for the more than 250 million users who visit MSN each month."
Microsoft claims 6.9 million MSN subscribers. AOL has an estimated 31 million subscribers, according to recently released company data.