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MSN fishing for disgruntled AOL users

Microsoft will use an application called TrueSwitch as the weapon in its most aggressive attempt to close ground between America Online and its own MSN service.

Microsoft is launching a new campaign to pluck away the disaffected from America Online's 34 million-strong subscriber base.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant will use an application called TrueSwitch, developed by New York-based Esaya, as the main weapon in what it considers its most aggressive attempt to date to close ground between AOL and its own MSN service. TrueSwitch automatically transfers all the information from someone's AOL mailbox, address book and calendar services into MSN Internet Access, Microsoft's ISP.

Microsoft's switching campaign specifically targets the many AOL services that people depend on. One of the main reasons people keep their Internet service provider accounts is because they don't want to abandon their e-mail accounts. Other applications such as calendars and address books are meant to keep people on AOL services for longer periods of time and to more consistently lure them back.

Defectors can also choose to have their AOL e-mail forwarded from their account to MSN for 30 days and can create a mass e-mail listing to inform all address-book contacts of the switch. Microsoft will also give a $50 rebate after defectors pay for three months of its service.

Microsoft will spend $10 million on advertising to encourage AOL users to switch.

This is not the first time that Microsoft has launched a campaign specifically targeting AOL. The company has tried luring AOL subscribers with free access deals and guaranteed ISP monthly fees of $21.95 until 2003. AOL charges $23.90 a month.

Still, after millions of dollars spent on marketing and promotional costs and years of setbacks, MSN remains far behind AOL with 7.7 million dial-up and broadband subscribers.

An AOL representative declined to comment on the campaign.