Microsoft launches eShop, previews revamped MSN

The company unveils a new online shopping service and a preview of its updated MSN Web portal, the latest steps in its rekindled plans to become a dominant player on the Web.

Culture
Microsoft today unveiled a new online shopping service called eShop, as well as a preview of the relaunch of its MSN Web portal, signaling the latest steps in the software giant's rekindled plans to become a dominant player on the Web.

As previously reported, Microsoft previewed selected features of the shopping service during a September briefing to financial analysts and journalists. During the briefing, the company outlined its plans to turn MSN into a distribution point for Web software services, such as free email provider Hotmail and its site registration technology MSN Passport.

Microsoft's Internet efforts have lagged to date. The company has taken numerous strategic turns in its online focus, from the days when MSN was a subscription-based online service to its current evangelizing about creating software-based Web services. Increasingly, the company's Internet strategy has moved away from its original goal of becoming an Internet media trailblazer.

A preview of MSN's upcoming redesign shows a visually busier interface compared to its current incarnation. The site prominently features services such as Hotmail, search, and shopping as tabs across the top and gives users more ways to personalize the site.

The site also will have a prominent Message Center window along the right side of the MSN home page. The window lists whether users have Hotmail messages or whether their friends using MSN Messenger are online.

The new site will launch by the end of the month, according to a message on the site.

With today's announcement, Microsoft said its eShop will feature shopping guides, a gift finder, and other links to merchant sites. MSN will integrate eShop throughout its network of services by providing links to products when users visit areas such as its personal finance site, MoneyCentral, or its CarPoint auto guide.

MSN eShop will also use MSN Passport, a universal registration software that also serves as an electronic wallet, allowing users to sign in once and purchase goods online without being required to reenter credit card information from site to site.

With the launch of eShop, Microsoft joins a list of other Web companies, including Yahoo, Lycos, and America Online, to introduce new versions of their shopping services.

These sites, such as LycoShop and AOL Shop, follow a common trend. Web portals are trying to shed their reputations as being simply aggregators of merchant links and are trying to beef up their shopping sites with more compelling content that focuses on consumer buying decisions.

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