31 December 1999

HIGH STREET RETAIL GIANT W H Smith has launched WHSmith Online , its eagerly awaited free internet service. Speculation about the new portal has been rife since January when chief executive Richard Handover dropped a king-sized hint, adding: 'Just watch this space.' Partnered by Microsoft and BT, WHSO differs from Dixon’s FreeServe and the myriad other free access portals because of its significant educational content. Users are offered free access to Hutchinson’s Family Encyclopedia plus links to other educational websites including the National Curriculum Guides. As a mark of the government’s support for the venture, its launch on 26 April was attended by the minister for school standards, Estelle Morris. Unlike its rivals, WHSO charges 50p for the necessary software on CD-Rom, although the disks are issued free to all schools. E-commerce features prominently with direct links to five WHS shopping sites and fifteen others. 'Our portal is directed at high quality, high content in the educational and reference area to leverage the W H Smith brand in these areas', said Handover.