MSN 8 Set To Launch; AOL Battle Intensifies

The war between Microsoft and AOL for Internet users is extending to a new battleground today: New York’s Central Park.

That is where Microsoft is scheduled to hold a star-studded launch event for MSN 8, the latest version of its Internet browser and online services. Beginning at noon Eastern time, the celebration is expected to feature celebrity guests, such as rock star Lenny Kravitz. It is all part of a US$300 million promotional campaign — the most Microsoft has ever spent to market MSN.

“That’s almost a perfect match to what Star Wars took in in U.S. ticket sales,” IDC analyst Jonathan Gaw told the E-Commerce Times.

AOL Not Resting Easy

Meanwhile, AOL is continuing its marketing blitz for AOL 8.0, which launched two weeks ago at its own celebrity-drenched event. On Wednesday, AOL issued a press release touting the popularity of its service since its debut, saying AOL 8.0 has been downloaded 5 million times, surpassing last year’s AOL 7.0 record. “The record adoption rate highlights the depth of AOL members’ engagement in the service as a central part of their everyday lives,” said AOL CEO Jon Miller.

AOL said its 8.0 upgrade is its biggest to date, with more than 100 new and enhanced features, including better e-mail filters, improved parental controls and more convenient online shopping.

MSN 8 also has new features, such as blocks for junk mail and enhanced parental controls. Microsoft is trying to portray its service as the most user-friendly. On Wednesday, Usability Sciences Corporation announced the results of a study showing that MSN 8 was preferred 3 to 1 over AOL 8.0. You guessed it: The study was commissioned by Microsoft.

“We are delivering a service that will help people solve the problems they have had to deal with on the Web, as well as give them new features to do more than ever before online in the areas of browsing, online safety, e-mail and communications,” Bob Visse, director of MSN, told the E-Commerce Times.

Broadband Battle

Analysts say broadband is the next battlefield for online services. Microsoft and AOL are aiming to recruit new customers now, so that when broadband becomes commonplace, they will be able to sell video-on-demand and other high-end features to those customers.

Microsoft has long run a distant second to AOL in terms of subscriber base. But that gap may narrow if the MSN 8 launch goes as planned. “They’re trying to hit AOL when they’re low. The timing is pretty good, and their marketing is pretty good,” said analyst Gaw. “There is still a large population that is not online yet. AOL has stumbled in terms of growing its subscriber base.”

In the Spotlight

AOL Time Warner also has stumbled in the eyes of investors; the company’s stock has fallen 60 percent this year. On Wednesday, it posted a quarterly profit but said it would restate two years of results, cutting $190 million in revenue, because of accounting problems at its AOL division. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission are currently investigating AOL’s accounting practices.

Today, it will be Microsoft under the spotlight. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is expected to demonstrate the features of MSN 8 in front of 700 invited guests. Champagne is scheduled to be served, and considering Microsoft’s mammoth promotional budget, do not be surprised if they uncork Dom Perignon.

1 Comment

  • Reasons for avoiding AOL:
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    1. AOL is Spam Central. Despite their denial, AOL sells member information. During my (now cancelled) 5-year membership, my Inbox was swamped with Spam on a daily basis. Ironically, AOL provided a method in which Spam could be reported to them. In doing so, a "thank you" would arrive stating they would look into the matter. However, the Spam would continue to arrive in mass quantity. Even -if- they only market within their own organization, everyone knows their reach is far and wide these days, resulting in a ton of unwanted email-based and other solicitations.
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    2. As a segue to #1, members should be fully aware of their Marketing Preferences. After signing in to AOL and typing keyword "marketing preferences" (or "marketing prefs"), members will be able to view and edit the various marketing angles that AOL has "assumed" member participation. From the member’s home address and phone number to their e-mail address, AOL has taken it upon themselves to freely market these avenues. For -each- profile created within a member’s main account (including their main account), these marketing preferences are set to "yes" without prompting for opt-in. It’s probably buried somewhere in all their fine print, but they’re gambling members won’t read it, as most do not. To add insult to injury, even if a member was to set all the preferences to "no", after 12 months AOL will automatically set them back to "yes" hoping the member will not realize this fact until it’s too late. A case study has revealed that AOL’s #1 form of income is via their marketing channels. Membership Fees take a back seat in comparison to the saleability of member information.
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    3. Continuing on this subject matter, AOL’s Support Center has admitted that a Member’s Screen Name is made available to websites being visited. In other words, the web server on which the visited webpage resides is able to record an AOL member’s screen name. This is an outright breach of anonymity and further legitimizes the fact that AOL quickly becomes Spam Central.
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    4. AOL = AMERICA on-line or Singapore on-line? Most likely by accident, I have received replies from AOL Support that were time-stamped and denoted as originating from Singapore. With AOL membership reaching into the millions, there’s little doubt that this company would reach into other countries to hire cheap support personnel. With so many Americans out of work these days, AOL is as Anti-American as you can get. Support them and you support everything they stand for.
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    5. As most educated people know, all the features of AOL are available via other channels. For example:
    –Connecting to the internet: There are many affordable and reliable ISPs (internet service providers) for people to choose from. I use Verizon high-speed DSL at a cost of 19.95 USD per month.
    –There are other IM (instant messaging) applications available at no cost. Even if someone was addicted to AIM (AOL’s IM), they can still download and utilize this application for free -without- being an official member of AOL.
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    6. AOL will reluctantly inform people (only when pressed) that there are other -cheaper- methods available for accessing their services. For around 5.00 USD per month, a member can access their e-mail and other AOL features via any internet browser such as IE (internet explorer). The only catch is that the person would need to utilize some other ISP.
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    7. Last, but by no means least, cut down on advertisements. It seems that, on every single window in AOL, there is an advertisement. It’s quite annoying in my opinion. At least provide a way to disable the adverts.

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