"What are we going to do tomorrow, Bill?"
"Try to take over the world, like we always do, Steve."
That apocryphal Redmond, Washington exchange became the basis for innumerable Pinky and the Brain scripts, but it was fitting for how the Evil Empire was taking over around 1995. Little by little, Microsoft was getting tentacles into everything it didn't already have near-monopoly power on. Its Office suite was taking over the worlds of word proceesing and spreadsheets from the likes of Word Perfect and Lotus, which had been the business bread and butter for both Eleanor and I up until around then. (Eleanor still uses 1-2-3 on an XP-enabled machine rather than sacrifice her cells to Bill-elzebub.) That year's revolutionary introduction of Windows '95, with the full bastardization of Apple's graphical user interface that the 3-point versions had hinted at, were driving Jobs close to the edge of irrelevance. Meanwhile, Netscape's early dominion of graphical internet surfing was threatened by the integrated, always-on, always-defaulted Internet Explorer.
Among the few open territories for cyberspace exploration were email and Internet Service provision, and Microsoft, while not dominant, also stuck its fingers into those pies, as well, around that time. Almost all PCs began to ship with an email program called Outlook Express, a country cousin of the more powerful Office component of that name that I probably began using around that time. I never used Outlook Express except by occasional accident; it combined the worst of Big Brother Outlook's features (clumsy interface, tech-manualese assistance in setting the thing up, near-impossible conversions to other programs, computers or backups, and Microsoft's usual magnetic attraction of all things viral) with a lack of the relatively few good things about the bigger app.
ISPs were still largely either local or big-company, and except for rare owners of dedicated pipelines, were phone modem based. Early comers like CompuServe and Genie eventually gave way to the temporary behemothdom of AOL, but it was 1995 when Microsoft began its inroad into that series of tubes, as well, under the initials MSN:
The Microsoft Network debuted as an online service and Internet service provider on August 24, 1995, to coincide with the release of the Windows 95 operating system. The range of services offered by MSN has changed since its initial release in 1995. MSN was once a simple online service for Windows 95, an early experiment at interactive multimedia content on the Internet, and one of the most popular dial-up Internet service providers. Today, MSN is primarily a popular Internet portal.
Microsoft used the MSN brand name to promote numerous popular web-based services in the late 1990s, most notably Hotmail and Microsoft Messenger service, before reorganizing many of them in 2005 under another brand name, Windows Live.
MSN never developed the panache of AOL for providing a full-service "walled garden" experience that was worth whatever they were charging. By the time of its debut, I'd become an AOL user, although it was awhile before I went all-in as a participant and (by the end of the century) as a Community Leader in their trivia areas. Once, maybe, something happened that got me so pissed off that I threatened to be part of an en masse departure from the service, but their software was clunky, their existing "communities" virtually nonexistent, and they did little if anything to enable the transfer of email, contacts or favorites from AOL to MSN. I wrote them off quickly and fatally as a bad apple in the Microsoft orchard, rivaling Bob and Clippy for messy splashes beyond doing what Redmond did best.
Yet, somehow, MSN has still survived, to a point. Our neighbor Sally acquired an msn.com email address within the past decade when they partnered with Verizon to try to match the AOL/Roadrunner experience. She was back to AOL within a few months. I still see the domain in the occasional incoming client email, and MSN.com, much like its equally obsolete AOL competition, has devolved into Just Another Portal. And now, even that may be at its end, as Microsoft has announced yet another go at breaking something that didn't need fixing:
Microsoft is so confident it has the Internet's best email service that it is about to spend at least $30 million to send its message across the U.S.
The barrage began Tuesday when Microsoft's twist on email, Outlook.com, escalated an assault on rival services from Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., AOL Inc. and a long list of Internet service providers.
As part of the process, all users of Microsoft's Hotmail and other email services operating under different domains such as MSN.com will be automatically converted to Outlook.com by the summer, if they don't voluntarily switch before then. All the old messages, contacts and settings in the old inboxes will be exported to Outlook.com. Users will also be able to keep their old addresses.
No word in that piece on whether the msn.com portal will remain as is, but this just strikes me as two failed brands that will fail worse together. Given the Office version of Outlook's tendency to crash, delete needed emails by saving them to unrestorable archive files, and attract viruses like a SICK ME sign on your ass, I really wonder what the attraction will be beyond the millions of MSN and Hotmail customers who will be confused, inconvenienced or more as a result of th....