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The next Microsoft next generation product is Next Generation MSN, apparently, although as with Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS), this seems only to be a working title. The software will be released as a preview next week, and seems to be based on the Mars project, designed to give MSN users a more integrated, easier to use user interface.

Whether NexGen MSN is an app or an extension to the OS is something we'll skip for the moment. In its Mars incarnation it was initially exposed (unfavourably) by the Great John C Dvorak, and was scrutinised in about as much detail as was possible by Betanews. The people at Betanews currently have some screenshots up, showing what Mars looked like in February, but it's still possible that Microsoft will have edited the software into something less horrible by now.

The basic point however is that Mars/NexGen MSN is pulling the old integration gag, but aiming MSN squarely at the consumer market. In that sense you can see some relationship between it and the early conceptualising of Millennium/Windows ME, and it's possible that in a parallel universe somewhere the integrated consumer desktop that's going to be offered here to MSN users never actually got pulled from WinME, and will be shipping with the "last" iteration of Win9x later this year.

Pitching it at MSN in this universe, however, is possibly a sounder tactical move by Microsoft. Users get a big, jazzy (and ugly) replacement desktop that's an MSN desktop, so there's going to be no argument about AOL icons here. It's a short hop from this to selling dedicated MSN machines at discount, or subsidised, via Tandy and Best Buy, so there's scope for integration beyond what's actually done in the software. And if the MSN Web Companion ever makes it as a product, well, Microsoft can just stick NexGen MSN on top of it, and there's another version of the dedicated MSN box. And cellphones? It'll happen...

NexGen MSN will have built in buttons for Hotmail, MSN Messenger, Message Center, and MSN MoneyCentral, according to Betanews. Not much chance of AOL buttons showing up here either, right? But as the MSN Empire continues to expand, plenty of scope for adding more Microsoft-owned buttons. It'll also have integrated audio and video (guess whose?).

Naturally none of this is going to be particularly attractive (to understate matters somewhat) to experienced users. But Microsoft is hoping to, and spending big bucks on, hooking newbie users. If it's simple to walk into a store and pick up a plug and go email plus Internet system, then they're not going to have any rooted objections to Microsoft. Probably the reverse, in fact.

Deanna Sanford, lead product manager for MSN marketing (weird title - MSN marketing has products?) had some interesting things to say in an interview with Reuters yesterday. The aim, she said, was to make MSN the easiest and fastest way to get onto the Web. Speed of course doesn't have anything to do with NexGen MSN, but it does indicate how important broadband access is to MSN in the arms race with AOL (as indeed we've been saying for some time).

Sanford also suggests that the MSN operation will have some role in Next Generation Windows Services, which by happenstance will also be announced RSN. She claims Microsoft hasn't yet decided "exactly how it will fit in." But that's surely pretty obvious - a tailored, tied client is obviously just the thing you'd use to hook users up to a vast Web-based services platform, and as that's more or less the way Microsoft is developing MSN, the MSN execs must surely have figured this out already.

There's some more interesting stuff in the embrace and extend department. The software is "optimised" for MSN, but it's possible to use it with other ISPs. Honest. But does this mean popup messages saying "in order to display this content you need to upgrade your ISP"? Somewhat cheekily, considering the fact that she's about to launch an MSN desktop wired up to MSN services, Sanford differentiates MSN from AOL thus: "AOL is focused on making it easy to get to AOL. MSN is focused on making it easy to get to the Web." Ahem. ®

Link

Betanews piece, complete with yucky screenshots

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