Recently, Microsoft (News - Alert) put a fresh coat of metaphorical paint on its MSN service, and in so doing, made it look unusually familiar. In something of a recursive loop, Microsoft's modifications made MSN look a lot like Windows 8, which made the experience even more bizarre when the MSN team said, via a blog post, that for Windows 8 users, the first thing that would be seen in IE 10 would be MSN.
MSN now scrolls to the right instead of down, with a series of tiles labeled for the various subsections that MSN has to offer, like a section for living, as well as separate sections for things like health, sports and news. Additionally, Microsoft also threw some of that Metro style, according to reports, into Hotmail and SkyDrive as well, and has even brought Skype front and center, integrating it directly into the front page, right alongside Facebook (News - Alert), Twitter, and perhaps a bit unexpectedly, Hotmail.
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But one point that's making some look askance at the changes is the sheer matter of online advertising. Given that Google (News - Alert) has recently surpassed Microsoft in total market value, it would be easy to think that Microsoft would be eager to recover its status. But the retooling of MSN leaves little extra room for online advertising--some have pointed to a large spot in the upper right corner that might be where advertising can be hosted--and that's a move that seems almost counter-intuitive.
Online is a weak point for Microsoft, considering that the fourth fiscal quarter numbers showed a loss of $6.672 billion in online, as well as an $8.12 billion loss for the year. Admittedly, both numbers include the one-time loss incurred by the writedown of aQuantive, which Microsoft purchased back in 2007, and Microsoft is showing some growth in online revenue, but it's still lagging well behind Google. Microsoft posted $735 million in revenue for the quarter. Google posted $9.026 billion. Granted, Microsoft is more a software firm than an online firm, but given the confluence of the two sectors, it's not a sector Microsoft can particularly afford to miss.
The ultimate question here is, will the redesign do more harm than good for Microsoft? Some apps, like Flipboard (News - Alert), have already done something similar to Microsoft's redesign, and with the proper design factored in, the transition likely won't be too tough for Windows 8 users who will rapidly get used to the new scrolling techniques and layout, probably because they'll be seeing those scrolling techniques and layout choices everywhere they look. They will be in Windows 8, in MSN, in Flipboard, and who knows where else by the time it's all said and done? This may not work for all platforms--web developers will likely be nonplussed by the idea of Windows 8-specific work, and those that try making a Windows 8-style design for Firefox or Opera or the like will also be unnerved.
Still, Microsoft is clearly taking a run at something new and different, and innovation should never be discouraged. The results of innovation may not always go according to Hoyle, but the idea of it is still one worth pursuing.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman