Microsoft has unveiled plans for a different Web home page as the software developer begins its transition towards free Web services.
The move signals a shift of focus from online services - embodied in the Microsoft Network (MSN) - towards a free Web, to increase traffic and boost ad revenue.
Shirish Nadkarni, director of product planning at MSN, said: 'Our online service has evolved. In the past, MSN was focused on a complete package with premium content.
'Now, users are more sophisticated and there is more activity in the free space - we intend to focus on the free Web.
'It's the next evolution of our strategy to help people accomplish activities offline and online.'
But Microsoft denied this was the first step in a move away from the internet access business. Analysts have speculated that Microsoft will eventually sell MSN to focus on the free Web.
But a representative at Microsoft said: 'MSN offers a premium service and Microsoft will continue to offer it.'
Dubbed Microsoft Start, the home page will have a customised front page and bring together all Web facilities offered by Microsoft, including the Inktomi search engine acquired last year, a Web directory, the recently purchased free email service Hotmail and full links to all of Microsoft's sites.
Nadkarni revealed that the goal of the directory and engine will be 'to help people quickly and easily find the resources that get things done.
We want people to get the best results, not the most results.'
There was speculation that Microsoft Start will eventually replace two other sites - the corporate home.microsoft.com. and MSN.com. But it will not replace MSN as a dial-up and premium membership network - it will simply be the first page MSN members visit when they log on.
Nadkarni stressed that Microsoft Start, which goes into beta testing next week, will not be fully launched until the company is satisfied with 'reliability after the site is tested under lots of traffic' by 40,000 people.
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