But many of MSN's information providers aren't following the online service to the Internet, and Microsoft is preparing to create a significant portion of content on its own, in part through a "greenhouse" program that is cultivating new Web information services, sources said.
Launched a little more than a year ago, Microsoft soon after moved to remake MSN, announcing in December of 1995 that it would move the service's content and members entirely to the Internet by the end of this year. The change in strategy came at a time when Microsoft was scrambling to revamp its other product divisions to embrace the Internet.
Other private, paid-subscription online services have announced similar plans to abandon their proprietary client software and networks in favor of Web browsers and direct Internet connections. The second-largest online service, CompuServe, has announced a plan, code-named Red Dog, to migrate its information services, forums, and chat areas entirely to the Web by the end of the year. The third-largest online service, Prodigy, plans to complete its transition to the Internet this fall.
The largest online service, America Online, has remained elusive about its Internet plans, though the company has created a number of independent Web services.
Microsoft Network could beat all of its competitors to the Internet when it opens a "preview" Web version of the service September 30.
Microsoft officials could not be reached for comment by press time. But sources said a substantial percentage of MSN's information providers are expected to leave the service when it moves to the Web, choosing instead to focus on their own independent sites. MSN will advertise on the Web sites of many of its former content providers, the sources added.
To expand the information offerings of the MSN Web site, the company has formed a group called Microsoft Multimedia Production, or M3P, to solicit original content from Web designers, sources said. The company will also continue to convert many of its existing CD-ROM titles, including Car Source and Encarta, to the Web.