This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "MSN Dial-up" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (March 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

MSN Dial-up
Company typeDivision of Microsoft
FoundedAugust 24, 1995; 28 years ago (1995-08-24)
Area served
United States
Worldwide (MSN Premium)
ProductsDial-up Internet access

MSN Dial-up is an Internet service provider operated by Microsoft in the United States and formerly also in several other countries. Originally named The Microsoft Network, it debuted as a proprietary online service on August 24, 1995, to coincide with the release of Windows 95.[1] In 1996 and 1997, a revised web-based version of the ISP was an early experiment at interactive multimedia content on the Internet.

Microsoft renamed the service MSN Internet Access in 1998, focusing its main 'MSN' brand on its web portal of the same name, Today, the company still provides dial-up Internet access under the name 'MSN Dial-up' for those who cannot access high-speed broadband. For several years, MSN was the second largest dial-up ISP in the United States behind longtime leader AOL, but very few people in the U.S. still rely on dial-up.[2][3]

Along with dial-up service, MSN provides its subscribers with an email account to use with and security software such as firewall and anti-virus programs.[4] Alongside MSN Dial-up, Microsoft also offer these as a standalone subscription service for users with broadband Internet access around the world, named MSN Premium.[5]

Early history

The Microsoft Network

MSN Classic sign-in screen
MSN Central

The concept for MSN was created by the Advanced Technology Group at Microsoft, headed by Nathan Myhrvold. MSN was originally conceived as a subscription-based dial-up online service and proprietary content provider like America Online or CompuServe. Then officially known as 'The Microsoft Network', version 1.0 of the service launched along with Windows 95 on August 24, 1995.[1]

The Microsoft Network was originally presented through an artificial folder-like graphical user interface integrated into the Windows Explorer file management program, with a home page named 'MSN Central'. Categories on MSN appeared like folders in the file system. The interface was designed by Clement Mok and employed high color graphics.[6]

MSN was included with Windows 95 installations and promoted through Windows and other Microsoft software released at the time. Product support and discussion was offered through the MSN service, as well as information such as news and weather, basic email capabilities, chat rooms, and message boards similar to newsgroups. It also offered access to the Internet via Internet Explorer.

There was debate in the media as to whether MSN would be an 'Internet killer', and some companies hedged their bets for the first year, creating content both on MSN and the World Wide Web. However, MSN launched too late to be a real threat to the web. Following Bill Gates' internal 'Internet Tidal Wave memo', which refocused Microsoft to be Internet-centric, MSN began to move its content to the web and promote itself more actively as an Internet service provider.[7]

Following the release of MSN 2.0 in 1996, Microsoft renamed its original proprietary online service 'MSN Classic'. Microsoft eventually shut down any remaining access to the MSN Classic service in 1998.

MSN 2.0

The MSN Preview was a mock premiere event, with host 'Michael'.
Feature demo in the MSN Preview
MSN 2.0 Program Viewer

In 1996, in response to the increasing relevancy and rapid growth of the World Wide Web, Microsoft created a new version of MSN, called 'MSN 2.0', which combined access to the Internet with web-based multimedia content in a new program known as the 'MSN Program Viewer.'[8] The service was promoted to existing MSN subscribers beginning October 10, 1996; the general release followed on December 10, 1996.[9][10]

Microsoft promoted MSN 2.0 with a series of advertisements and promotional materials describing the service with the phrase, "Every new universe begins with a big bang." The company offered the initial release of the new MSN 2.0 service on a CD-ROM that it sent to MSN subscribers in the fall of 1996. When inserted, the CD-ROM opened to the ambitious and flashy 'MSN Preview', an interactive video-based experience that introduced current and prospective subscribers to the new version of MSN and described the features of the MSN 2.0 software.[11]

The MSN Preview was filmed at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle and was formatted as a guided tour of a mock premiere event for the new MSN.[12] It was hosted by a witty and sarcastic character named 'Michael' who welcomed viewers outside of the theater and then guided them through the theater to meet several other characters, each of whom represented one of the channels of MSN 2.0's 'On Stage' area, the main platform for interactive multimedia content in MSN 2.0.[11]

A handful of uncredited actors appeared in the MSN Preview, including then-unknown actress Anna Faris,[13][14] who represented 'Channel 5', which was described as "media, zines, attitude"; it was targeted at Generation X and college-age members. The preview also included its own jazz and pop music loop that played during the installation process.[15]

Once installed, members accessed MSN content through the MSN Program Viewer, which was essentially an animated, stylized and streamlined interface on top of an Internet Explorer 3.0 web browser. When members signed in, they would be presented with several different 'Channels', which were categories for the various types of content available on MSN.

These channels included new services that launched in 1996 such as, a news website now known as that began as a partnership between Microsoft and NBC; and Slate, an online magazine focused on politics and current events. Both websites were available to all Internet users and still exist today, although they are no longer owned by Microsoft.[9] Also integrated into MSN 2.0 shortly after its launch was Microsoft's popular Internet Gaming Zone, which later became MSN Games.

Interactive multimedia content was presented in a TV-like format, dubbed MSN shows, as part of the 'On Stage' section. The many shows and sites included an interactive online nightly game show called 'Netwits', a snarky website addressing women's issues called 'UnderWire', and a regular celebrity interview and web-surfing session called 'One Click Away'.[16]

These new destinations supplemented other Microsoft web-based services such as CarPoint and Expedia, which were branded within MSN as 'Essentials'. An additional 'Communicate' section was based around email, chat rooms (which were branded MSN Chat and moved to the standard IRC protocol), and newsgroups (which were moved to Usenet from a proprietary architecture), while a 'Find' section was dedicated to searching MSN content and the rest of the Internet; it also provided a calendar of upcoming events and new shows on MSN.[9]

The new content made extensive use of multimedia and interactive features, including VBScript and early implementations of Macromedia Shockwave Flash (originally called 'FutureSplash') for animations.[17]

While the MSN shows approach was unique and innovative, the content was not easily accessible by members with low-end computers and slower dial-up connections. High-speed Internet access was not widely available at the time, and some users subscribed to monthly dial-up plans that limited the number of hours during which they were allowed to access the service. The MSN 2.0 software was also unstable and would often quit unexpectedly.[15]

In addition to MSN 2.0's speed and stability issues, existing MSN subscribers were concerned the transition to MSN 2.0 would break up communities that were established via the MSN Classic message boards and chat rooms.[18] Their concerns were confirmed when Microsoft announced plans to close the entire MSN Classic service. As a result of all these issues, a website called 'The Official msNOT Hate Site'[19] originated as a negative response to the new MSN 2.0 software. The website claimed Microsoft patently ignored feedback from concerned members and censored anyone who spoke out against the upgrade; it further charged the company's handling of the transition to MSN 2.0 was "insensitive and ethically questionable."[15] Microsoft denied it attempted to silence those who expressed concern about the upgrade.[20] The website also mocked the music loop that played during the MSN 2.0 installation process because it repeated the phrase "too stupid to stop."[15]

Ultimately, the ambitious use of web-based and interactive multimedia content on the Internet during 1996 and 1997 proved to be ahead of its time, and the MSN 2.0 service was not as successful as Microsoft initially hoped. The company returned to the drawing board for its next MSN release.[8][21][22]

MSN 2.5

In 1997, after abandoning the interactive multimedia format, the MSN service was again refocused, this time as a more traditional Internet access service. With the release of MSN 2.5 (code named 'Metro' and sometimes referred to in marketing materials as 'MSN Premier') in late 1997, some exclusive MSN branded content was still offered through the MSN Program Viewer, but the service primarily directed members to traditional text-based websites that anyone on the Internet could access, instead of interactive shows.[23]

Beginning with MSN 2.5, email service for MSN members was moved from a proprietary Microsoft Exchange environment that powered email for both MSN Classic and MSN 2.0, to standard POP3 and SMTP protocols that could be accessed via any Internet email program, including Microsoft's own Internet Mail and News, which became Outlook Express with the introduction of Internet Explorer 4.0. MSN also launched 'Friends Online', a predecessor to the MSN Messenger Service that allowed members to add each other as friends, see each other's online presence and send instant messages to one another.[24] Accompanying the MSN Program Viewer in MSN 2.5 was 'MSN Quick Launch', an icon inside the Windows notification area. Like the MSN Program Viewer in MSN 2.0, the menu in MSN Quick Launch could be dynamically updated to guide members to updated MSN content and services.

MSN 2.6 and 5.0

With the release of MSN 2.6 in 1998, Microsoft renamed the service 'MSN Internet Access', and the MSN Program Viewer was abandoned entirely in favor of the more familiar Internet Explorer. Another new version of the service, MSN Internet Access 5.0, was released along with Internet Explorer 5.0 in 1999. MSN 5.0 was largely identical to MSN 2.6, aside from offering the newer version of the browser.

Also in 1998, Microsoft relaunched its Microsoft Internet Start web portal as and began to focus on offering services under the 'MSN' brand name to users of other Internet service providers. Building on the success of MSN's web-based email service, Hotmail (which was acquired by Microsoft in December 1997), the MSN Messenger Service for instant messaging was launched in 1999. Unlike the 'Friends Online' service bundled with MSN 2.5 that required an MSN membership, anyone with a free Microsoft Passport or Hotmail account could use MSN Messenger.

MSN Explorer

MSN Explorer
Stable release
11.80.0015.0100 / March 15, 2021[25]
Operating systemWindows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7
PlatformMicrosoft Windows

With the release of Windows XP in 2001 (which also brought with it Internet Explorer 6.0), Microsoft began to offer content for MSN Internet Access subscribers through a program called MSN Explorer. This program is similar to the early MSN Program Viewer in that it provides access to MSN websites, email, instant messaging, and other content on top of a web browser (an Internet Explorer shell) based on the Trident layout engine. MSN Explorer is similar to AOL Desktop, which also has a built-in email client and provides access to content for AOL members.

Upon the transition to MSN Explorer, email for MSN members was integrated into Microsoft's Hotmail architecture and could be accessed from the web the same way as any other Hotmail account. MSN Explorer provided a user interface for navigating one's email inbox and folders, also known as 'MSN Mail', until the migration of Hotmail to the Windows Live brand. MSN subscribers were upgraded to the standard version of Hotmail in 2008, but with additional storage capacity compared to free Hotmail users. Microsoft phased out Hotmail and replaced it with in 2013, but MSN subscribers still receive email addresses to use with the service ad-free. Former members can continue to use those addresses with after ending their subscriptions.[26]

Version history

MSN 6 and 7

MSN Explorer 6.1 on Windows XP

An early pre-release version of MSN Explorer, labeled version 1.1, was originally included with a development build of Windows XP. The final release, MSN Explorer version 6.0 (officially numbered to follow the last release of the older MSN 5.0 software), was built into Windows XP with its release in October 2001. Anyone who used Windows XP could choose to use MSN Explorer regardless of their MSN membership status. The user interface for MSN Explorer matched the visual style of Windows XP and utilized relatively responsive animations that would not become commonplace in web browsers until HTML5 came along several years later.

Microsoft began referring to the MSN Explorer software as simply 'MSN' beginning with version 7, an update that was rolled out shortly after the initial release of Windows XP. Microsoft halted development of the free edition of the software in 2002 in favor of a version only available with MSN dial-up and premium subscriptions. Versions of MSN Explorer later than 7.5 require a paid subscription, but it is possible to use another Internet service provider while accessing content provided through the MSN Explorer software. The last free version of the MSN software also remained available for download for some time.

MSN 8 and 9

MSN versions 8 and 9 were released in 2002 and 2004 respectively. As of MSN version 9, the software began requiring a user to have a Microsoft account, though depending on the version, it may or may not require an active subscription to other MSN services. The interface also includes many Flash animations. Version 9.5 added compatibility with Windows Vista. Version 9.6 was released in June 2008 and included revisions necessary for a newer mailbox synchronization technology and to replace the MSN Parental Controls menu options with links to the newer Windows Live Family Safety feature.

MSN 10

Microsoft began rolling out MSN version 10 in November 2009, following the release of Windows 7. Features included full compatibility with Internet Explorer 8, an integrated spell checker, and the ability to exclude MSN Messenger from the installation. Version 10.2 was released in 2011, including photo email integration with SkyDrive (now OneDrive), the ability to include photos or a photo slideshow with a link so others can download a copy for themselves, and customizable toolbar button groups. Version 10.5 added minor improvements to the MSN software; most notably Microsoft changed its user agent to disguise it as a newer web browser in order to bypass 'outdated browser' warning messages from some websites.

MSN 11

MSN Explorer 11 is the current version, which was released in April 2014 and offers compatibility with Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 11, adds tabbed browsing, and brings back a 'remember me' feature. The software still included an instant messaging client based on Microsoft's Messenger service, even though it had been phased out in favor of Skype since 2013. Subsequent releases of MSN 11 included updated email functionality to maintain compatibility with in version 11.5, and updated logos to match current MSN branding in version 11.6.[25]

MSN for Mac OS X

MSN for Mac OS X was a dial-up client interface to Microsoft's pay-for-access online services for Mac users. The software was, in some respects, comparable to the AOL dial-up client given its channel-based interface, built-in chat and instant messaging capabilities, parental controls, and ability to accommodate multiple screen names. It used the Tasman layout engine made for the Mac edition of Internet Explorer 5. It was discontinued in March 2005.[27] After the discontinuation of MSN for Mac OS X, Microsoft continued offering its Microsoft Messenger for Mac software, an instant messaging-only client that required only a free Microsoft account for use. As mentioned previously, Skype replaced Messenger in 2013.


Microsoft has extended its MSN dial-up Internet access service beyond the United States since 1995, partnering with various telecommunications companies to provide service in numerous areas around the world.

In Canada, MSN partnered with Bell Sympatico (the ISP division of Bell Canada) creating 'Sympatico / MSN'.[28] In Australia, Microsoft originally partnered with Telstra in 1995 with MSN branded locally as 'OnAustralia'; when Microsoft withdrew from the joint venture the following year, Telstra went on to assume 100% ownership and rebrand the service as BigPond. In Mexico, MSN partnered with Telmex Prodigy creating 'Prodigy / MSN'.[29] An affiliation with Xtra, Telecom New Zealand's Internet provider, known as XtraMSN ended in 2006.[30] In Italy the sign-up was done through an 800- (toll-free) phone number which assigned to the user PC an internal IP address of SITA-NET (Société internationale de télécommunication aéronautique), in the IP range, giving the user access to all of the SITA network equipment (so, not only the SITA-managed server involved in the MSN account registration process).

MSN has many offices worldwide for national customer support. It utilizes the service of call centers around the world. Among the countries are the Philippines (technical and customer service), El Salvador (technical and customer support for Spanish-speaking customers), and India (customer service). In 2007, Microsoft set up a research and development center for MSN China, based in Shanghai's Zizhu Science Park, which hosts technical support for MSN services.[31]

MSN Premium

For customers with high-speed broadband Internet access, MSN Premium is a subscription service provided by Microsoft that combines a number of different Internet services, along with firewall and anti-virus software provided by McAfee and Spy Sweeper, into a premium version of MSN Explorer. In order to use MSN Premium, users subscribe to the service through Alternatively, MSN Premium can be purchased directly from the Microsoft Store and (as of 2022) costs $99 for a year in the U.S., also costing 99 euros in European countries like Germany and France.[32][33]

In the past, Premium could be obtained by American customers by acquiring DSL through one of MSN's partners, such as Verizon or Qwest (now merged with CenturyLink) in the United States or Bell Internet in Canada. Microsoft also offered premium services with Verizon through the Windows Live brand name beginning in 2006.[34] MSN Premium provided through Verizon was disbanded on March 1, 2012, and users could no longer use MSN Premium with Verizon after that date.[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b Nations, Daniel. "Microsoft timeline and profile". Web Trends. Archived from the original on June 19, 2008. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  2. ^ Rosencrance, Linda (November 8, 2007). "AOL revenue, subscribers plummet". Computerworld. IDG. Archived from the original on April 10, 2008. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  3. ^ "AOL still has 2.3 million dialup subscribers—and they're very profitable". Quartz. August 6, 2014. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
  4. ^ "MSN Dial-up: A better way to connect: faster, safer, and smarter". Archived from the original on October 25, 2014. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
  5. ^ "MSN Explorer: Account & billing help - Microsoft Support". Retrieved September 7, 2023.
  6. ^ Robert J. Ambrogi (1995). "First Look: The Microsoft Network". Retrieved August 7, 2009.
  7. ^ "May 26, 1995: Gates, Microsoft Jump on 'Internet Tidal Wave'". Wired. Condé Nast. May 26, 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
  8. ^ a b "MSN works to find its focus". Archived from the original on June 6, 2007. Retrieved August 7, 2009.
  9. ^ a b c "New Web-Based Version of The Microsoft Network Debuts". News Center. Microsoft. October 10, 1996. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  10. ^ "Microsoft Announces General Availability of The Microsoft Network". News Center. Microsoft. December 10, 1996. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  11. ^ a b "First Look: MSN Preview video from 1996". YouTube. July 13, 2006. Retrieved August 7, 2009.
  12. ^ "MSN's early Internet experiment". July 13, 2006. Retrieved September 25, 2016.
  13. ^ "Dave Curry – Blog Archive – Spümco's Weekend Fur Hunt". June 11, 2006. Archived from the original on January 6, 2009.
  14. ^ "The Ultimate Anna Faris Experience: MSN 2.0 Preview". Archived from the original on May 10, 2011. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  15. ^ a b c d the DDJ staff (February 1, 1997). "Dr. Dobb's News & Views 2/1/97: MSN2 Alienates MSN Members". Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  16. ^ "Website Review: 'The Microsoft Network'". Entertainment Weekly. November 29, 1996. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  17. ^ "Behind the Scenes at MSN 2.0: Architecting an Internet-Based Online Service". 1997. Archived from the original on July 27, 2003. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  18. ^ "CNET Mixed bag for MSN – November 20, 1996". November 20, 1996. Archived from the original on December 30, 1996. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  19. ^ "The Official msNOT Hate Site". December 21, 1996. Archived from the original on December 21, 1996. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  20. ^ "New York Times: Disgruntled MSN Members Launch Site to Air Grievances". New York Times. November 23, 1996. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  21. ^ "The Microsoft Network Previews Service Upgrade". News Center. Microsoft. July 21, 1997. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  22. ^ Burr, Ty (March 20, 1998). "MSN dropping entertainment "shows" and focusing on advertising". Entertainment weekly. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  23. ^ "The Microsoft Network Announces Significant Service Upgrade Backed by "Million Dollar Madness" Sweepstakes". News Center. Microsoft. October 13, 1997. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  24. ^ Paul Thurrott (July 30, 1997). "Microsoft upgrades MSN to version 2.5". ITPro Windows. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  25. ^ a b "MSN Explorer Update History". MSN. Retrieved September 26, 2017.
  26. ^ Tsukayama, Hayley (February 19, 2013). " gets official, will replace Hotmail". Washington Post. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  27. ^ "Microsoft to kill MSN for the Mac". ZDNet. March 1, 2005. Archived from the original on October 2, 2008.
  28. ^ "". January 1, 1970. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  29. ^ "". December 31, 1999. Archived from the original on March 12, 2008. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  30. ^ "MSN Worldwide". December 31, 1999. Archived from the original on November 27, 2007. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  31. ^ "Microsoft's Research and Development Center in China". February 1, 2007. Archived from the original on January 25, 2009. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ "Verizon and Microsoft Expand Alliance to Provide Windows Live Services for High-Speed Internet Subscribers". News Center. Microsoft. August 29, 2006. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  35. ^ "Verizon Transition: FAQ". Microsoft. Archived from the original on March 27, 2014. Retrieved March 26, 2014.