Internet

Microsoft's portal push continues

Advancing its efforts to become a dominant presence in the Web portal space, the software giant launches a streamlined redesign of MSN.com.

Advancing its efforts to become a dominant presence in the Web portal space, Microsoft has launched a redesign of MSN.com that gives the site a more streamlined look and feel.

As part of the evolution of MSN.com's services and features, the redesigned site is more compact. However it still collates the myriad MSN-branded Web properties, pushing traffic toward Microsoft's content channels by highlighting news from MSNBC, travel information from Expedia, and car-buying resources from CarPoint. Other Microsoft sites are promoted as well.

The latest incarnation of MSN.com marks Microsoft's continuing drive to become a dominant force in Web content. Despite having one of the Web's largest audiences, the Redmond, Washington, company's Web strategy has seen a fair share of bumps in the road.

Its first forays onto the Internet, such as the MSN online service and its subscription-based Slate Web magazine, have struggled with stagnant growth.

One indication of Microsoft's strategic restructuring was the renaming of its MSN online service to MSN Internet Access. That move represented a shift in the once-proprietary online service's focus, from offering content to merely acting as an Internet service provider.

Reports last week detailed talks between Microsoft and AT&T in which the telecommunications giant explored the ideas of acquiring the MSN Internet Access ISP or taking ownership stakes in MSN.com and Slate.

MSN Internet Access's audience has remained flat at roughly 2 million, according to research firm Jupiter Communications. Combining Internet access with AT&T WorldNet would create the second-largest ISP, but one that still would remain far behind America Online's 15 million membership base.

Further complicating Microsoft's efforts to get its portal strategy on track, Pete Higgins, former vice president of Microsoft's Interactive Media Group, stepped down from his post last November, fueling speculation that Microsoft president Steve Ballmer would exert more control over the division's budget. Some $1 billion has been spent since its inception.

With its new look, MSN.com becomes the latest in a flurry of Web sites that have redesigned.