September 30, 2002 7:05 PM PDT

Microsoft sets launch date for MSN 8

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Microsoft plans to launch MSN 8, the next version of its online service, on Oct. 24, CNET News.com learned on Monday.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant plans to make the announcement on Tuesday, along with additional details about MSN 8. On Monday, Microsoft signed off on the gold, or final code, to MSN 8.

MSN 8 marks a dramatic turnabout for Microsoft as the company reels in its cumbersome consumer Web strategy. Under an initiative announced last year known as HailStorm, Microsoft planned to offer a la carte services to consumers through MSN.com. In a retrenchment, Microsoft will offer its consumer Web services to paying customers through MSN 8.

Microsoft plans to keep its basic pricing structure for existing paying customers, which will pay $21.95 for dial-up access and about $40 to $50 for broadband service, depending on the speed. As part of a promotion for spurring broadband adoption, Microsoft last week announced a discount of new networking hardware unveiled earlier in the month. Microsoft is expected to reveal that MSN 8 subscribers using another Internet Service Provider (ISP) would pay around $10 for access; previously Microsoft did not charge for this kind of access.

Concurrent with the release of MSN 8, Microsoft also plans to make available MSN Messenger 5. Two versions of the product will be available, one included as part of MSN 8 and another as a separate product. The version with MSN 8 will for the first time include features available only to paying customers.

Microsoft hopes to woo customers to MSN 8 with many new features targeting communications. Besides enhancements to MSN Messenger 5, the online service sports a new e-mail spam filter.

Parental controls are another new feature, which can be applied to many parts of the product, including the Web browser, e-mail client and MSN Messenger 5. For example, parents can put limits on e-mail, instant messaging or Web access. The controls work with all nine available MSN e-mail accounts.

Microsoft offers broad and granular controls. Applied expansively, parents can apply restrictions based on age groups. On a more detailed level, parents can restrict access to specific content or even to aspects of other MSN services.

The release of MSN 8 could further churn up competition with AOL Time Warner's America Online division. AOL also plans to release version 8 of its software in October. AOL claims more than 34 million subscribers compared with 8.7 million for MSN.

 

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