What if MSN’s original approach had succeeded?

MSN logoNot many people remember this, and Microsoft probably isn’t very proud of it either, but when it was introduced, MSN wasn’t about the internet at all. Instead, Microsoft had hopes of creating a ‘walled garden’ network with similar content, but ultimately controlled by them. They may have had usability in mind (the web was just as chaotic then as it is today), but chances are it was plain arrogance. With Windows’ enormous market dominance they thought they could control this whole ‘online’ phenomenon.

Just imagine how the last decade would have looked if MSN had been a big succes in 1995. If the internet had been abandoned in favor of Redmond’s “Microsoft Network”. There would be no Google. They might seem to have a frightening level of control over the internet nowadays, but at least they’re not formally running it. MSN Search would be the only search engine, Hotmail (or live mail or whatever it would be called) the only email service… brrr…

msn news screenshot

To me, this was the first of a long series of blunders that make up Microsoft’s online strategy. They may rule the desktop, their online efforts have been pretty much harmless (except perhaps for the success of their appallingly bad IM client ‘Messenger’). I can see why Yahoo! was reluctant to be swallowed whole by a company with such a bad online track record.

I’m a firm believer in open standards and online freedom, so I don’t think that this hypothetical situation would have lasted long. People would probably have rebelled and moved back to the internet or whatever truly free alternative would have been available. But still, the concept it chilling. Even writing this post has made me more aware of why we need to monitor Google’s dominance and make sure we don’t appoint our own dictator. Now if only I wasn’t so completely dependent on my Gmail, Calendar, Talk, Docs, iGoogle and their Search…

Roy | January 29, 2009 | English,Internet | Comments (7)
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  1. Microsoft was just riding the coattails of Prodigy and Compuserve which were quite successful until the open internet took over. MS also had some cool ideas that were ahead of their time, like active desktop “Channels” which delivered newsfeeds right to an animated desktop – today we have RSS feeds on the Vista sidebar.

    It’s a wonder they didn’t roll with that enthusiasm and forethought throughout the 90’s. Their absence was conspicuous as they concentrated stubbornly on the desktop while allowing upstarts like Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek, and others to act as users’ gateways to the web. I argue that Microsoft’s failure to win an early monopoly on the internet is what allowed Google to thrive. That’s why I was so surprised the first time I heard that MS considered Google a competitor. At what?

    Comment by Brian — January 29, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

  2. I remember being absolutely blown away by the web when I first saw it in 1994 or 1995. The thing is that Microsoft failed to recognize it as something that would revolutionize the computing industry, and tried to substitute it with a glorified bulletin board. Prodigy and Compuserve were both older systems, but MSN was born years after the birth of the web.

    As for the ‘active desktop’, I remember being absolutely frightened of that thing. Partly because it came from MS< but mostly because I didn't want anything changing my desktop. Looking back I have to admit I probably wasn't ready for it, and it was probably just ahead of its time.

    Comment by Roy — January 30, 2009 @ 8:39 am

  3. IS this that different then now. Google controls most whatg i look at.

    Comment by Jane — January 30, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  4. Yeah Jane, Google controls most of the internet nowadays, but if we really wanted, we could use another search engine, and I hear Yahoo’s email thing is quite good as well. We still do have options. We choose to use Google, it’s not forced upon us. Perhaps we should exercise our rights a little more though…

    Comment by Roy — January 30, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  5. Google is way better than Yahoo though. I actually tried switching my homepage to Yahoo, but then quickly switched it back to Google. Google has more relevant searches and better results. That’s my opinion though, I’ve always found it better and much easier to use.

    Comment by Rajbir D — February 2, 2009 @ 12:03 am

  6. It is exactly what Facebook is trying to do nowadays. They let you go in and then you see video/play game/listen music/chat and all of the other “internet” things inside Fb without never going (or linking something) outside.

    Comment by Matteo Nicoletti — February 3, 2009 @ 8:03 pm

  7. I prefer Google over MSN…Because of its features and User friendlyness
    Thanks for nice article!
    Internet Games

    Comment by Internet Games — July 5, 2009 @ 1:21 am