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Microsoft brings MSN to the Mac market

The program, which right now is little more than a dialer application, is quietly introduced as part of a deal Microsoft struck with Qwest a year ago.

Microsoft's MSN Internet service is dipping its toe into the Macintosh market.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant has quietly introduced MSN Internet Access for the Mac to customers in the 14 states that get local phone service through Qwest Communications International. The service, which has been running for about two weeks, is part of a deal Microsoft struck with Qwest a year ago to transition Qwest's dial-up and broadband customers from the Qwest.net service to Microsoft's MSN service.

As part of the deal, Microsoft was required to offer service for Qwest's Mac customers. MSN product manager Lisa Gurry told CNET News.com that Mac customers make up a small fraction of Qwest.net's 500,000 subscribers.

The MSN for the Mac program, as it consists now, is little more than a dialer application that connects Macs to the Internet. Microsoft said it would study whether to add features similar to those on the PC version as well as whether to expand the Mac service beyond customers in the areas served by Qwest.

Unlike the Mac version, PC versions come with MSN Explorer, which is a modified IE browser that links directly to MSN services.

"It's absolutely a great opportunity to begin a relationship with Mac customers and evaluate what opportunities there might be going forward," Gurry said.

Qwest is the local phone provider in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington state and Wyoming.

Earlier this month, Microsoft reiterated its commitment to develop its Office and Internet Explorer programs for the Mac, but said other programs would be made compatible only if they did not tie up too many resources. Microsoft also declined to put a time frame on its Mac commitment.

And although Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit, which develops the Mac versions of Office and Internet Explorer, is focused solely on Mac OS X, the MSN dialer runs only through Mac OS version 9.2. Gurry said Microsoft is evaluating whether to add support for OS X.

Gurry said Microsoft is beginning to transition Mac customers to MSN this month, and its goal is to have all of Qwest's Mac customers on MSN by July 1.