But much has changed since then. In fact, it's impossible to say whether online services will even exist five years from now.
"It's like jockeying for superiority on a sand dune," said David Simons, managing director of money management research firm Digital Video Investments.
Just last week, CompuServe dropped out of the consumer competition by officially killing its Wow service. Prodigy, at the bottom of the heap, also has essentially withdrawn from the race, redefining itself as a straightforward Internet service provider with some notable bells and whistles.
That leaves AOL and MSN.
Of the four online services, AOL remains the indisputable king, with membership surpassing 7 million. But MSN, with a $100 million marketing effort this year and virtually unlimited resources, promises to give AOL a serious run for its money.
Both services are betting on the enormous untapped market at the end of the rainbow: the tens of millions of Americans who have not yet logged on. They're also pinning hopes on the unproven areas of Internet revenue, advertising and commerce.
All but CompuServe have adopted flat-rate pricing. Some, like MSN and Prodigy, are converting from proprietary networks to 100 percent Web-based services, trying to capitalize on the massive hype of the Internet.
But even if their strategies work, success is by no means guaranteed. In this special report, NEWS.COM reviews the competitive landscape among the four leading players.
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