Q&A on MSN 7: Not Just Easy to Use, but Useful to Use

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 15, 2001 — As the Web rapidly becomes an increasingly important part of everyday life, consumers’ expectations are changing. What’s critically important today is the ability to get on the Web and use the full power of the Internet to accomplish what you want. Consumers ask for ways to do this — from a faster connection and more relevant content, to better ways to communicate with friends and family. With the release today of MSN 7, Microsoft delivers a leading Web service that makes the Web more useful than ever.

Yusuf Mehdi, MSN Vice President

PressPass recently spoke with MSN Vice President Yusuf Mehdi about the benefits MSN 7 offers consumers, including a comprehensive new look that makes discovering information easier, new broadband offerings that help consumers get set up with a faster connection, and improvements to a number of leading MSN services to help consumers harness the full power of the Web.

PressPass: How has MSN progressed over the years, and what is unique about this latest version of MSN?

Mehdi: During the course of its relatively short history, the Web has undergone tremendous change. Just a few years ago, it was a wild frontier, with the early pioneers trying to figure out how to make it useful. Then the dot-com frenzy hit, and we saw that great explosion in the number of portals and consumer Web sites, offering everything from news and information to shopping, entertainment and more — all targeted at the everyday Web user. But many of these services were difficult, not “user friendly,” had questionable value and didn’t offer consumers a convenient way to move from one service to another

More recently, there has been a strong move toward a rationalization of all things Web-related. What people really want is an Internet service that is useful. They want information to help make life decisions and be more educated, not just interesting trivia. They want to communicate without having to worry about spam, viruses or restrictions. They want to accomplish a specific task in the most convenient, cost- and time-effective manner possible.

Over the past year, we’ve gone out and talked to consumers to find out what they really want from the Web. According to our research, 70 percent of consumers think that when it comes to the Web, useful is more important than easy. So in our design goals for MSN 7, we focused on ensuring that people who use MSN will have the most useful experience on the Web.

For instance, when we looked to provide street and highway traffic information, we went beyond just making it easy to get the basics on our site; we wanted to understand how our customers want to use this information. A common problem is that traffic news is not as relevant in front of the computer as it is when you are in your car in a rush to get home. To this end, we used Microsoft’s new .NET Alerts technology, a service that can directly contact the person on their pager, cell phone, or other device when something significant has occurred on their commute. This can be configured to work automatically or during special notifications periods. This makes traffic information more than just easy — it makes it useful.

PressPass: How else is MSN 7 using .NET Alerts?

Mehdi: We’re actually taking advantage of .NET Alerts across the network. With .NET Alerts, you can be notified automatically when a timely event occurs that is important to you. For example, you can customize MSN MoneyCentral to automatically let you know if a stock that you are tracking moves up or down by a certain percentage. On MSN Music, you can set up alerts to let you know when your favorite band is coming to town or when they have a new album release. MSN Calendar can be set up to use .NET Alerts to remind you of important dates and tasks.

PressPass: What has been done to make the new version of MSN more useful?

Mehdi: We’ve focused our innovation in three important areas. First, we’ve made significant improvements to MSN Explorer and the home page. Second, we’re building on our existing broadband offering by expanding the availability of MSN Broadband and providing extensive broadband content across the network. In addition, we’ve made a number of improvements to MSN services, including MSN Messenger, MSN Search, MSN Photos, MSN Music, MSN Carpoint and MSN MoneyCentral

PressPass: What kind of changes can consumers expect to see on the MSN home page?

Mehdi: As a result of consumer feedback, MSN has updated its home page with a new layout that includes new fonts and colors, and even added something we call a “shark fin” — it looks like a tab — to help organize information, so the overall look is much friendlier. More importantly, we’ve made it a lot faster to load. The home page is “lighter,” so it will load much more quickly. If you take a look at MSN Explorer, there have been additions there, as well. There’s a big Games button on the MSN Explorer toolbar and a My Horoscope button. The left-hand My Stuff bar can be made smaller, which allows for more space to view the Web. Again, these are the results of direct feedback from customers.

We’ve added an important new feature called My MSN. My MSN makes it easier than ever for consumers to customize a personal page that provides information relevant to the things they want to accomplish: keeping track of stock prices, following sports scores, staying apprised of weather conditions or traffic reports, or keeping up on the latest news. The customization follows you, so anywhere you log onto MSN — home, work, a friend’s house across the country — you can get the information that is most useful to you.

We’ve also enhanced the customization capabilities in many of the features on MSN. We’ve added a button that says “I want to…” When it’s clicked, a list of the tasks that consumers told us they most often want to accomplish on the Web comes up. When something from the list is selected, it takes them directly to the feature or service they need to accomplish that task. I think this is a great example of the work we’ve done to make MSN 7 more useful.

PressPass: What’s new in MSN 7 for broadband users?

Mehdi: As we looked to deliver our broadband service, we sought to offer more than just a fast connection. We aimed to solve the key problems people have — ease of setup, availability, low trial costs, software to harness the power, and special content and services. MSN Broadband is built on MSN’s intelligent broadband connection technology. It delivers great performance, reliability and ease-of-use. With MSN Broadband, everything you do online is faster, and you are always connected. The MSN Broadband Highlights, which is available to everyone, pulls together all of the content that is optimized for broadband from across MSN — MSN Music, MSN Carpoint, MSNBC, etc.

With MSN 7, we’re expanding the availability of MSN Broadband Access. MSN Broadband has been dramatically improved with MSN’s IntelliConnect technology, which enables easy setup, auto-updates for ensuring optimized performance and reliability, and extremely fast connectivity. By the end of the month, MSN Broadband access will be available in 25 cities, and that will expand to 49 major markets and some 29 million households by the end of the year. By the first quarter of 2002, MSN Broadband will be available in over 90 percent of DSL-capable households in the United States.

MSN is already a very popular destination for consumers who visit the site with another broadband connection. We have over 22 million people a month coming to MSN over a broadband connection. However, we will continue to evolve and deliver great broadband-centric content. For broadband consumers coming to MSN, we offer exclusive software, content and services. MSN Explorer is tuned and optimized for broadband with the integrated Windows Media Player, our MSN Broadband Highlights page includes a wide variety of broadband optimized content, and we have extensive content across the network from MSNBC, ESPN, E! Online, Disney and more.

PressPass: How about the setup process for MSN Broadband?

Mehdi: We’ve worked hard to make it as simple as possible. Essentially, once you have signed up, all you need to do is enter a user name and password. MSN and its service providers take care of all the details, like configuring the modem and TCP/IP settings. We’ve also made it very attractive from a pricing standpoint. Not only is the cost less than our biggest competitor’s, but MSN Broadband offers two months free service, and we offer very attractive deals through industry leaders like Qwest, BestBuy, Radioshack and Staples.

PressPass: What other improvements to MSN services have been made?

Mehdi: Staying in touch with others is probably the most important thing that people do on the Web, and we’ve done a lot of work to provide more choices and make communication on the Internet more flexible and useful for consumers. MSN Messenger, the world’s leading instant-messaging service, is one example. We’re introducing a new version that includes a new look, easier access to common tasks, new emoticons and the ability to maintain group contacts. Consumers are able to keep in touch with communities of friends and family the way they want to.

The popularity of digital cameras has accelerated tremendously over the past year. With MSN Photos, we’ve extended the digital camera to allow for editing of pictures online, with all the new online-editing tools in one place. These tools let you enhance photos by altering things like brightness, contrast and image effects. MSN 7 also makes it easier to order prints online and share images with friends and family. We can help users manage their memories.

PressPass: What about Windows XP? What has been done in MSN 7 specifically for consumers who adopt the newest version of the Microsoft operating system?

Mehdi: Most Internet services today do little to integrate the offline and online experiences. Ultimately, you end up with duplicate features and services — like multiple usernames, passwords and login processes. When we considered MSN 7, we turned to Windows as a way to improve the overall online Internet experience. In particular, we supported key innovations of Windows XP such as fast user switching, and both MSN and Windows XP support Passport, which simplifies the login experience. The similar look and feel, and the interoperability between MSN Messenger and Windows Messenger, also help to provide the consumer with a consistent experience.

PressPass: How does MSN stack up against AOL and Yahoo?

Mehdi: It wasn’t all that long ago that some observers said MSN wasn’t even really in the game when compared with AOL. No one says that today. Right now, MSN is the most popular consumer network in the world, with some 270 million unique users. We’re the most widely available Internet portal in the world, with content in 18 languages and in 34 markets. MSN is visited by more consumers than any other site in a dozen countries. We’re the most popular in Europe, and we reach better than 60 percent of the online audience in the U.S.

We’ve continued to build our overall reach — the number of people who come to MSN — both in the U.S. and internationally. We recently surpassed Yahoo in unique users of MSN Search — an amazing feat, since you could say that Yahoo built its business on its search capability.

Now, with the next version of AOL just around the corner, I think the comparison between the two new versions will be very telling. While it’s true that AOL has done a pretty good job of providing its subscribers with a nice, easy experience, we know that a simple experience isn’t enough any more. When people go out onto the Web, they almost always want to accomplish something specific. MSN offers features and delivers technologies that AOL can’t begin to match, from MSN Messenger, which has 42 million active users, to MSN Mobile, which is accessed by approximately 5 million people, to MSN Search, which makes use of true leading-edge technologies.

Many people see AOL as a basic entry service and ultimately end up switching to other providers when they are ready to step up. Unfortunately, there has not been a real credible option for most people — until recently with MSN. Since the introduction of our Switcher Campaign last May, 80 percent of our new users are coming from other ISPs, and about half of those are AOL users looking to upgrade. With MSN 7’s broadband solutions and best-of-breed services, we think the attraction will be that much more compelling for users of any ISP service to upgrade to MSN.

With MSN 7, we are the clear, compelling choice, and the momentum that MSN already has will continue to build.

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