MSN Vs. Windows Live: The Differences, the Content – and the Confusion

As Microsoft is embarking on several projects in the Internet space that will redefine its MSN portal, with the addition of a second brand called Windows Live that will focus on consumer online communications products and web services while thew main MSN experience focuses more on new-media ventures, the public – and the press as well – are starting to have tunnel vision over the whole thing. After all, most portals such as that ofered by MSN deliver both content and services together without messing with an additional brand operated by the business behind the primary brand for online services – even a long-standing one such as MSN – so the confusion is somewhat understandable. But it’s not like some refocusing was inevitable with services going to Live and content staying at MSN, so we’re kind of stuck with it. However, since these changes are only the beginning for both the new Windows Live and existing MSN systems, it’s time somebody touched on the issues at hand. So here goes…

Basically, the services side is known to include webmail (that is, online e-mail through Windows Live Mail, formerly Hotmail), instant messaging (or IM for short, changing from MSN Messenger to Windows Live Messenger) and clasifieds (to be called Windows Live Expo) ; have online mapping services (Windows Live Local, formerly MSN Virtual Earth); and is rumored to be the future home of web search (called MSN Search right now) and blogging tools (as in weblogs, currently known as MSN Spaces) – while MSN provides the main content experience – and lots of it. How Microsoft’s MSN team aims to promote itsofferings without confusing the %$#& outta everyone is a question everybody’s trying to answer, since content and the services offered alongside the content are not generally considered separate as per what has already been mentioned. In fact, what the vole is basically trying to do is picture content as complimentary to a standalone product, while offering a content portal as a compliment to the services. And that’s where MSN is now suddenly different in structure than competitors such as Yahoo and AOL. So basically, Windows Live is to Google as MSN is to Yahoo. No wonder everyone’s confused by this.

And speaking of Yahoo, MSN is playing catch-up in the content space like crazy, moving forward with plans to equal (or beat) the competition in the new-media game. To assist in this goal, MSNBC.com exec John Nicol becomes head of the entire MSN portal; MSN starts planning for more multimedia content, online videos, user-generated submissions, etc.; and MSN starts working to improve links to partner sites within its system (read: Fox Sports, Slate.com, etc.) while introducing overhauled sections rather than a systemwide overhaul. But wait – hasn’t MSN been in the content game before? Did it not fail to impress the public, while AOL stole the show in dial-up and Yahoo became the king of content freebies after the dot-com era? Didn’t MSN trade off ownership of Slate, Expedia and the MSNBC business’s cable component (the first to the Washington Post, the second spun off and aquired by Barry Diller’s InterActive Corp. and the last returned to NBC Universal)??? Huh? HUH!?

On the other hand, MSN may simply be focusing on new media vs. old media, whilst the Softies remain open for suggestions on existing ventures. Under this scenario, trading Slate to WaPo may simply be a better way to operate the site using an established media company while maintaining exclusive rights to co-branding, and the MSNBC restructuring may be a focus more on the new-media portion (which is still jointly controlled by NBC and Microsoft) than the cable tv business underneath it (now primarily an NBC Universal operation). If this latter scenario is indeed correct, then MSN’s intentions – and future direction – is only now starting to clear up, in which case the vole is clearly in the media game for the long haul.

Let’s hope, then, that Microsoft can at least use that to clear up the confusion between MSN and Windows Live. Then all the tech news bloggers can begin to finally relax. Meanwhile, we’ll see how this all plays out.

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