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Mars attack – new MSN Internet UI spotted

If it was in an antitrust case, we could say 'Justice Bars Mars"

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Information has started leaking out about Microsoft's "Mars" project, which is being developed as a kind of combination user interface and Internet access system for MSN. Veteran PC Mag columnist John C Dvorak sounded off on the subject earlier this week, and ActiveWin and BetaNews have since teamed up to produce a combined report. Aside from John C's screenshots and observations about hideous clutter, it's still not entirely clear what Mars actuallyis, but ActiveWin managed to extract a gnomic quote from Microsoft: "Mars is a codename for a project designed to simplify and enhance the Internet experience for MSN users." The spokesperson then declined to give details of features and release dates. So what is it? Go back to where it lives first of all, in the Consumer Services Division of Microsoft's Consumer Group. The CSD is headed by Dave Cole, who'd been in charge of the Consumer Windows project before the multi-dimensional morphing session that was last December's Microsoft reorg. According to the statement Microsoft released at the time, CSD's mission "is to provide an intuitive and empowering consumer experience, world-class communication and collaboration services, and high-quality Internet access that consumers need to access the Everday Web, anytime, anywhere, and on any device." If you fell asleep during that par, go back and try again - it's important, particularly that "on any device." Mars looks pretty much like a future rev of the MSN access software you currently run on a PC, and Dvorak points to similarities between it and what he saw of Neptune's UI last year, but MSN has demoed a CE-based access device, the MSN Web Companion, and it's logical for Mars to be implemented on this as well. Loaded on a PC Mars could operate pretty much like current MSN client software, while also giving users the opportunity to use it as their UI. Dvorak thinks Microsoft would like users to do this, but that the users aren't going to like it. We'd agree with him there, and suspect that even if somebody within MS has the notion of using it for a general next generation UI, they're not going to get their way. On some kind of appliance, however, it could actually be hard-wired as the UI, and it would make sense for Microsoft to do this as part of the big MSN push it's currently mounting. Broadband satellite access, cheap and/or subsidised MSN-only CE appliances sold through the MSN outlets at the likes of RadioShack, Best Buy et al? That'd be an attractive package for consumers wanting to get onto the Web, and a helpful one for Microsoft Consumer Group bosses with a mission to ramp MSN fast. ®

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