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Microsoft retools MSN Explorer

The software maker plans to introduce a new version of its MSN Explorer Web client software in its latest attempt to unseat AOL Time Warner for Web dominance.

Microsoft said Thursday that it will introduce a new version of MSN Explorer, its Web client software, in the latest attempt by the software giant to unseat AOL Time Warner for new media dominance.

MSN Explorer, which was launched in October, is software that combines the company's various Internet products into one service. It includes the Internet Explorer Web browser, its MSN Internet service provider, the newly refurbished MSN Music software and client access to Microsoft's instant messaging service, MSN Messenger.

The client software also features areas that link to Microsoft's free Web services such as its portal, MSN Hotmail, financial site MSN Money Central and other content sites.

The new version of MSN Explorer, due next week, includes several minor upgrades and new features. For instance, people will be able to collapse toolbars for more screen space, use a Hotmail e-mail address as an Internet Access login, access e-mail while not online, and use a spell-check feature in Hotmail.

Microsoft said the service has been steadily gaining popularity. The company said 6 million people now use MSN Explorer.

Although luring that many customers since October may be an achievement, MSN Explorer's roster pales in comparison to America Online's 28 million paid subscribers.

But Microsoft has not lost all of its battles against AOL. Last month, the company announced that MSN Messenger was being used by more people worldwide than either of AOL's IM products. In less than two years, MSN Messenger has grown from no users to a population challenging AOL's.

Did AOL shoot the
messenger? The software giant also recently unveiled its HailStorm initiative, which will connect its many Web services with MSN Messenger. HailStorm has been billed as a way to manage personal data as consumers move among Web-based computer applications.

Microsoft competitors are concerned that the company may be repeating anti-competitive practices that led to a federal antitrust trial and a court order that the company be split. That order has been appealed, and a decision by an appellate court is expected to be handed down at any time.