It’s been a long time since I’ve given much thought to MSN, Microsoft’s venerable online portal for news and information. And though it still has a vast worldwide audience, there hasn’t been much evidence that it’s been top of mind for Microsoft, either. For instance, the MSN brand went unmentioned in the email about the company’s future which new CEO Satya Nadella sent to employees in August.
But it turns out that Microsoft has been busily working on an ambitious revised version of MSN. It’s available now at preview.msn.com, and one of the notable things about it is that it reflects two of the company’s primary strategies of the Nadella era: connecting the dots between its own products, and putting them on platforms other than Windows.
The new MSN has a toolbar which links to a bunch of Microsoft properties, such as Office, OneDrive, MSN Music, and Skype. Nothing surprising about that. However, it also acknowledges that nobody leads a purely Microsoft-centric online life by also linking to Facebook and Twitter, and Microsoft says that it may add other sites it doesn’t own as well.
MSN is now organized into topics such as News, Money, Sports, Food & Drink, Health & Fitness, and Travel. These topics won’t just be sections on a website: They’ll also be a series of stand-alone applications for PCs, smartphones, and tablets. Some Windows and Windows Phone apps which currently carry Microsoft’s Bing brand will get new MSN versions, and Microsoft says that all-new apps will also be available for iOS and Android “in the coming months.”
The various incarnations of MSN will share the same personalization settings: Set up your favorite stocks or sports teams on the MSN website or in one of the apps, for instance, and they’ll show up everywhere.
For the past five years, Bing has been the online consumer brand that Microsoft has lavished with attention. Now the company is redrawing the boundaries between it and MSN to give the latter a bigger role than it’s had in a while. It’ll be interesting to see how the relationship between them plays out in the future–and whether MSN, which started out as an AOL competitor built into Windows 95, can successfully reboot itself for the smartphone era.