Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

New Microsoft On-Line Service a Mixed Bag

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

New Microsoft On-Line Service a Mixed Bag

Article excerpt

Microsoft Network was four months old on Christmas Eve, but does Microsoft have reason to celebrate its fledgling on-line service?

Yes and no.

Since Microsoft Network arrived on Aug. 24, the same day Microsoft Corp. launched Windows 95, the online service has attracted more than 550,000 paying customers and an additional 50,000 still in free, trial subscriptions. The service has signed heavyweights such as NBC and Paramount to provide content, in some cases stealing partners away from more established competitors with promises of lucrative revenue-sharing arrangements.

Microsoft recently strengthened its relationship with NBC by agreeing to spend $440 million on a jointly run cable news channel and companion on-line news product that will be MSN's newsroom.

Finally, MSN is being redesigned so eventually much of it will live on the Internet's World Wide Web, where it will be accessible by subscribers and non-subscribers, Windows 95 users and non-users - one of many recent acknowledgments by Microsoft that its future lies on the Internet.

Not bad for four months work.

But the results of redesigns and high-profile partnerships are months, if not years away. Meanwhile, MSN is struggling with a dearth of high-speed connections, and users complain of sluggish performance, lack of interesting content, and empty chat rooms. Microsoft is keeping a lock on any figures related to the service, including how many hours subscribers spend on-line, and the number of people who've signed up, then left.

"There's no buzz on MSN," said Peter Krasilovsky, an analyst at Arlen Communications, a technology research firm in Bethesda, Md. "It's still in fringe use among the early adopter crowd."

A company official is upfront about some faults, but discredits other complaints. Larry Cohen, MSN lead product manager, said MSN is better than it was 90 days ago and will improve even more during the first quarter of 1996.

One of those improvements is adding high-speed, 28,800-bits-per-second lines. MSN currently has about 100 around the country, will add 50 by the end of this month and another 50 in the first quarter of 1996, Cohen said. …

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