RealTime IT News

Microsoft Plans MSN.com Revamp, Files Expedia IPO

Facing increasing competition in the portal arena, Microsoft Corp. Thursday announced a plan to reconfigure its MSN.com portal in an attempt to gain on portal leaders.

As part of its enhancements, Microsoft (MSFT) unveiled its new MSN Search, touted as a faster and more relevant version of its previous search tool. It incorporates facets of Direct Hit technology, as well as directories from LookSmart and RealNames to provide search results.

The company also announced a new portal designed specifically for small businesses, called bCentral.com. Set to launch in beta on Sept. 30, bCentral will feature services based on three areas: getting a business started online by connecting to the Web and building a Web site; promoting and marketing online to reach new customers; and managing a business more effectively.

As for the company's future, Richard Belluzzo, group vice president for the consumer and commerce group, said that MSN wants to make the Net more a part of everyday life.

"We want to transform the Web from the occasionally used, inefficient medium it is today to a highly personalized place to get things done," said Belluzzo. "By establishing MSN.com as the focal point for this vision, we're moving beyond today's Internet to deliver what we call the Everyday Web -- the next-generation Internet that enables everyone to harness the full power of the Web."

In addition to Thursday's enhancements, part of Microsoft's strategy is to extend the reach of MSN.com to a variety of non-PC devices, including the personal digital assistant, the cellular phone and the television set. There are also deals in the works to partner with other companies on services, following in the footsteps of its recent deal with Ford Motor Co. (F).

MSN lags behind portals such as Yahoo! (YHOO) and America Online (AOL) in terms of popularity, and has had trouble finding a niche in the market.

In related news, Microsoft Thursday filed to take its Expedia travel service public. The site lets Web surfers book flights, hotel rooms and car rentals. Its IPO would most likely dampen the success of competitor Priceline.com (PCLN). After the IPO, Expedia would become a majority-owned subsidiary of Microsoft.