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MSN plans portals in 24 countries

The sites will be created through partnerships with local media outfits, such as France's Le Monde or Germany's Der Spiegel.

Microsoft today will announce it plans to launch local versions of MSN.com, its Web search and content aggregation service, in 24 countries worldwide.

The portals will be created through partnerships with local media organizations, such as France's Le Monde newspaper, German magazine Der Spiegel, and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, according to Eric Johnson, business manager for MSN worldwide. These local companies will provide content in the host country's language.

All the ventures will incorporate Microsoft's Web technology, such as free email provider MSN Hotmail, MSN Web Search (still in beta), MSN Web Communities, and MSN Messenger, which has yet to go into its beta testing phase. These English-language services will be available on the upcoming portals in the first half of 1999, according to Microsoft.

Countries where MSN.com expects to establish its presence include Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Italy, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Taiwan. Argentina, Chile, Columbia, and Peru will be listed under "South America."

MSN.com currently has a presence in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. These sites are left over from the former Microsoft Network, an online service that aimed to beat America Online. Microsoft has since revived the MSN brand to encompass its portal properties.

The announcement marks another aggressive step by Microsoft in the Internet portal game. Since relaunching its MSN online service two years ago, the software giant has tried to compete in the free Web space, instead of the subscription-based market where it began.

Microsoft sits on a large audience of Netizens due to brand recognition from its ubiquitous Windows operating system as well as the millions who use its Web browser and its Internet commerce properties such as Expedia and CarPoint.

By integrating this audience with its various technology and content offerings, Microsoft aims to challenge the Yahoos and Excites of the landscape, sites that have fared well with Wall Street and Netizens alike.

Today's announcement comes days after the software giant released a beta version of its MSN.com portal.