Unused to languishing as an also-ran, software colossus Microsoft is preparing for a major assault on US online market leader America Online.

A massive drive for new subscribers to the Microsoft online portal MSN will break in October and, for the first time, the company aims to blanket the market with its own MSN-access software CDs.

New subscribers will receive more free hours online, while special software will facilitate access to other Microsoft websites such as EnCarta, HomeAdvisor and MoneyCentral. Retailers Radio Shack and Best Buy have been signed to special promotional deals.

In advance of the main campaign, a test version of the new product, MSN Explorer, is available from today for downloading from www.msn.com.

According to MSN marketing chief Yusuf Mehdi, a new-look/feel user interface will make signing-up to MSN as easy as possible. New users will also be inveigled by improved MSN features such as internet search, access to specialized content and electronic shopping.

Currently, a widening abyss lies between MSN and the market lead forged by AOL. The former claims three million subscribers to the latter’s twelve million and AOL reports a net gain of 750,000 subscribers during the last quarter compared with 450,000 for Microsoft.

News source: New York Times