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WebTV Comes To An End At Last

This September, an Internet legacy will be Error 404: WebTV will be dead.

I know what you’re thinking: WebTV was still alive?

Indeed it was, but this mainstay of the very early days of the World Wide Web will be shut down after an 17-year run, according to its owners, Microsoft, which had re-branded the service as MSN TV in 2001.

The thin-client Internet browsing service, which provided Internet access via television sets, will be shuttered on September 30. Microsoft revealed the news in an e-mail to subscribers and an FAQ posted to its Web site.

WebTV (later called MSN TV) started in 1996 with the goal to bring new people “online” and to give those already online an easy, hassle-free means of accessing the internet from the comfort of their homes. Later, MSN TV 2 was released with vastly greater power and features. Since then, the web has continued to evolve at a breathtaking pace, and there are many new ways to access the internet. Accordingly, we have made the difficult decision to end the MSN TV service on September 30th, 2013. We are working with our customers to ensure the transition is as seamless as possible.

Users of the service, now dubbed MSN TV 2, will be able to access some of their content online using Microsoft’s existing cloud services. Favorites saved in the television web browser will be accessible via SkyDrive. E-mails and contact information will be available through Outlook.com.

Photos will also be available on SkyDrive, but users will need to run through a few steps to make sure the photos will be carried over.

All of this, of course, is contingent on users having Microsoft accounts, which is urged in the FAQ documentation.

(See also The Rebirth of “Web TV”)

At its launch in 1996, WebTV was actually a very forward-thinking way to get Internet access to users in a marketplace where PCs were nowhere near real penetration in the home. Use of the Internet, particularly the Web, exploded in the mid-1990s, after the National Science Foundation allowed commercial use of Web sites. But the expense of PCs in those days, not to mention the scarcity of dial-up services, made Internet use in the home a patchy affair.

WebTV, with its integrated dial-up and a simple-to-use set-top box, made Web surfing at home a relatively painless process. Emphasis on the relatively:

For all its flaws, WebTV and MSN TV did bring manage to introduce a fair amount of users to the mysterious world of the Internet, and as such, deserves a little show of love. Remember the days of dial-up Internet fondly, for it was these brave pioneers that would one day bring us LOLcats.

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