Microsoft Turns MSN Into Home Page For Windows 8 & IE 10

For Windows 8 users, the Internet’s home page will be Microsoft’s MSN. And MSN will look remarkably like Windows 8 itself.

Microsoft gave its MSN service another coat of “Metro” paint on Monday, giving it a look and feel that’s almost indistinguishable from the latest versions of the company's other online properties. If anything, MSN goes even farther to look and feel like a Windows 8 app, scrolling to the right rather than down. That’s either going to feel new and refreshing, or quite annoying, depending on how you feel about the new Windows 8 interface.

MSN Is The First Thing You See in IE 10

More importantly, however, MSN will be “the first thing you experience when you launch Internet Explorer 10 on your new device,” Microsoft’s MSN Team said in a blog post. That means the first taste of the Web on a new Windows 8 device - which includes Internet Explorer 10 - will be the MSN home page. (Users should be free to change it to whatever they’d like, however.) MSN had already received a taste of the makeover to the interface formerly known as “Metro,” at least according to Wikipedia, although Microsoft first showcased the style in Windows 8. Microsoft has also transformed Hotmail into the Metro-ized Outlook.com, and given the SkyDrivethe Metro look and feel as well.

A Big Change From Today's MSN

The current MSN page puts three illustrated stories at the top of the page on a carousel of about six items, followed by a list of categories like “sports,” “news,” and “entertainment”. A sidebar highlights video and MSN’s integration with Facebook, before trailing off into a mishmash of local data and other features. Inexplicably, the “MSN Spotlight” story is buried at the bottom of the page. With the new redesign, MSN is bringing the local content literally front and center, with a “Google Now”-like card at the top center of the page. Inside it are local weather and four boxes highlighting Hotmail (can that be right?), Skype, Facebook and Twitter. The integration of Skype is interesting, given that Microsoft has said previously that it plans to integrate the Internet calling VoIP (Voice over IP) service across all areas of its business.

Room For Online Ads?

So far, however, Microsoft has shown no indication that it will mimic the roundtable videoconferences demonstrated by its Web rival, Google, who passed Microsoft in total market value late on Monday - an indication, at least, that Wall Street considers Google, which makes almost all its money from Internet advertising, a more valuable property than Microsoft. The new design also puts a large, promotional spot to the upper right corner, which could be used for advertising. (A mockup of the new design that Microsoft showed spotlighted Skype.)

That’s telling, given that online remains a critical area of weakness for Microsoft. For its fourth fiscal quarter ended in July, Microsoft lost $6.672 billion in its online services division and $8.12 billion for the year - although both included a $6.2 billion writedown of aQuantive, an online ad firm Microsoft bought in 2007. Online, the company continues to show revenue growth - although the $735 million it earned in revenue for the quarter is a paltry 8% of the $9.026 billion Google recorded for the same period.

Microsoft claimed that the new MSN design was inspired by Windows 8, with a horizontal, rather than vertical, navigation structure. The page scrolls to the right, rather than down, a format that Microsoft says is optimized for the touch interface used by the Surface and Windows 8 tablets. The pages render twice as fast as the classic MSN Web experience, Microsoft added. Microsoft also said that users will be able to “snap” the page to one side of the screen, although this feature is probably less about MSN and more about the Internet Explorer framework.

Will Horizontal Scrolling Help Or Hinder?

The most interesting implication is probably the Windows 8-style emphasis on horizontal scrolling. Microsoft will probably encourage other Web developers, including its partners, to follow suit, producing a small minority of websites optimized for the horizontal format. It’s worth noting that reader apps like Flipboard have already pushed into this space. For properly designed Web pages that sense IE10, the transition to horizontal scrolling probably won’t be that traumatic for Windows 8 users. But for Web designers, it may add another headache. And for webpages that decide to be avant-garde and use the side-scrolling format on non-IE 10 browsers (hello ForumsWindows8), it’s going to be a bit of a shock.