Q&A: Microsoft Unveils a New Way to Access the Web

LAS VEGAS, November 15, 1999 — Today at COMDEX/Fall ’99, Microsoft previewed MSN-based Web Companion, a small, low-cost device designed for consumers who want a fun and easy way to connect to the Internet, surf the Web and communicate with others. MSN-based Web Companion represents a major move for Microsoft into the Internet-access device market, and underscores the company’s commitment to its vision of the Everyday Web, whereby people are empowered to be connected to the Internet any time, any place and from any device.

PressPass spoke with Jon DeVaan, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Consumer and Commerce Group, to get a clearer picture of how these devices help consumers get more from the Web and how they fit into Microsoft’s overall product strategy.

PressPass: What is an MSN-based Web companion?

DeVaan: Web companions are a new breed of Internet-access device, designed for people who want a simple way to surf the Web and communicate with others. MSN-based Web Companions are a line of devices within this product category that provides the same rich Internet experience a PC provides, but with more fun built in-by way of a more intuitive user interface, easier-to-find controls and simpler steps to Internet access. Because MSN-based Web Companions are powered by the Microsoft Windows CE operating system, they offer user-friendly features such as Instant-On and a single-screen user interface.

PressPass: Why is Microsoft designing a software solution for Web companions?

DeVaan: Microsoft’s Everyday Web vision is about making the Internet important to every person, every day. Web companions make it possible for more types of people to access the Internet by making it easier and more affordable to get online. Moreover, we are acting in the interests of consumers who want an easy and affordable way to access the Internet.

PressPass: How do MSN-based Web companions enable people to get more out of the Web?

DeVaan: MSN-based Web Companions help people make the most of their time on the Web. Because of their small, lightweight form factors, these devices can be used in any room of the house for such tasks as online bill paying, staying in touch by email, or electronic shopping. Moreover, this device will not become obsolete; users will always experience the best Internet technology as the devices are updated via the Web automatically.

PressPass: Hasn’t Microsoft traditionally been about PCs? Why is the company moving in this direction?

DeVaan: The PC-plus era is all about consumer choice, and Microsoft is poised to offer customers options for the kinds of devices that fit their needs. MSN-based Web Companion is geared toward consumers who want an affordable and ultra-easy way to access the Web. It is ideal for people who have never used a PC-it’s a no-frills solution. On the other hand, people who want to run productivity applications will continue to buy and use PCs.

PressPass: How will Microsoft compete in this emerging market?

DeVaan: What differentiates the MSN-based Web Companion from other Internet-access devices is that it’s so comprehensive. Because the device is powered by Windows CE, it turns on instantly and provides a user-friendly experience. It connects to the Internet automatically using MSN Internet Access and takes users directly to the best-of-breed services on MSN.com, making it easy for them to complete their everyday tasks. MSN-based Web Companion also makes it easy for users to explore the rest of the Web.

PressPass: What is the difference between MSN-based Web companion and Microsoft WebTV?

DeVaan: WebTV delivers to consumers a complete suite of enhanced TV services, including Internet capabilities such as web browsing, email and chat; Interactive TV programming, in which viewers can play along with their favorite shows, vote, get more information on their favorite stars, purchase products and more; and Personalized TV, which will provide viewers with much greater choice and control over their TV viewing experience. WebTV delivers these features through a variety of products and services, including WebTV Classic, WebTV Plus and WebTV Personal TV services. The WebTV experience is all about making the TV experience more fun, useful and engaging.

In the case of the WebTV Classic — the World’s first Internet-access device and service for the television — the customer’s TV is used as the monitor and the content is modified for living room viewing at 10 feet or more. Web companions are designed for a typical computer experience where the consumer is a couple feet away from the display. We expect consumers to choose based on how/where they want to get access to the Internet.

PressPass: What role are your leading hardware manufacturers (OEMs) playing and what are the benefits of them joining forces with Microsoft?

DeVaan: Microsoft is working with leading OEMs, such as Acer Inc., Philips Electronics, Thomson Consumer Electronics and Vestel USA, to deliver MSN-based Web Companions to consumers. We will provide the software solution and they will provide the hardware. Having this single, integrated end-to-end management platform frees OEMs from having to harness individual components, such as client and server software, Internet access, content and upgrades. A streamlined platform sets the stage for hardware innovation. OEMs can focus on differentiation and deliver innovative and highly functional MSN Web Companions for consumers.

PressPass: What is the price point expected to be for MSN Web Companions?

DeVaan: Our goal is to provide an affordable solution for making the Web a part of people’s everyday lives. While the ultimate decision rests with our OEM partners, who are building the devices powered by Microsoft’s software and services, I can tell you that the devices will be very reasonably priced.

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