MSN Network Commercial 2001
Early computer network ad for the MSN network as shown in 2001
From 1995 to 1998, the MSN.com domain was used by Microsoft primarily to promote MSN as an online service and Internet service provider. At the time, MSN.com also offered a custom start page and an Internet tutorial, but Microsoft's major web portal was known as "Microsoft Internet Start", and was located at home.microsoft.com.
Internet Start served as the default home page for Internet Explorer and offered basic information such as news, weather, sports, stocks, entertainment reports, links to other websites on the Internet, articles by Microsoft staff members, and software updates for Windows. Microsoft's original news website, https://msnbc.com (now NBCNews.com), which launched in 1996, was also tied closely to the Internet Start portal.
In 1998, the largely underutilized 'MSN.com' domain name was combined with Microsoft Internet Start and reinvented as both a web portal and as the brand for a family of sites produced inside Microsoft's Interactive Media Group. The new website put MSN in direct competition with sites such as Yahoo!, Excite, and Go Network. Because the new format opened up MSN's content to the world for free, the Internet service provider and subscription service were renamed to MSN Internet Access at that time. (That service eventually became known as MSN Dial-up.)
The relaunched MSN.com contained a whole family of sites, including original content, channels that were carried over from 'web shows' that were part of Microsoft's MSN 2.0 experiment with its Internet service provider in 1996–97, and new features that were rapidly added. MSN.com became the successor to the default Internet Explorer start page, as all of the previous 'Microsoft Internet Start' website was merged with MSN.com.
Some of the original websites that Microsoft launched during that era remain active in some form today. Microsoft Investor, a business news and investments service that was once produced in conjunction with CNBC, is now MSN Money; CarPoint, an automobile comparison, and shopping service are now MSN Autos; and the Internet Gaming Zone, a website offering online casual games, is now MSN Games. Other websites since divested by Microsoft include the travel website Expedia, the online magazine Slate, and the local event and city search website Sidewalk.com.
In the late 1990s, Microsoft collaborated with many other service providers, as well as other Microsoft departments, to expand the range of MSN's services. Some examples include MSN adCenter, MSN Shopping (affiliated with eBay, PriceGrabber, and Shopping.com), and the Encarta encyclopedia with various levels of access to information.
Since then, MSN.com has remained a popular destination, launching many new services and content sites. MSN's Hotmail and Messenger services were promoted from the MSN.com portal, which provided a central place for all of MSN's content. MSN Search (now Bing), a dedicated search engine, was launched in 1999. The single sign-in service for Microsoft's online services, Microsoft Passport (now Microsoft account), also launched across all MSN services in 1999. The MSN.com portal and related group of services under the 'MSN' umbrella remained largely the same in the early 2000s.
The sports section of the MSN portal was ESPN.com from 2001 to 2004, and FoxSports.com from 2004 to 2014. MSN had an exclusive partnership with MSNBC.com for news content from 1996 until 2012 when Microsoft sold its remaining stake in msnbc.com to NBCUniversal and the website was renamed NBCNews.com. Since then, MSN has launched 'MSN News', an in-house news operation.
As of May 2005, MSN.com was the second most visited portal website in the United States with a share of 23.2 percent, behind Yahoo! which held a majority.