Microsoft Plans to Take on Google by Opening up MSN

By Reed Stevenson

Microsoft Corp. is making some of the features on its Internet division site, MSN, available to outside software developers as it takes on Google Inc. in the Web-based information and services market.

Microsoft, the world's largest software maker, is encouraging software developers to write programs that tap into MSN, hoping such programs will increase the number of visitors to MSN properties in the same way millions of Web users are attracted to Google's search, e-mail, news and other services.

At stake is the lucrative income from online advertising, particularly ads that are displayed alongside search results, the main driver of search leader's Google's revenue.

"What we want to do is attract people into the (MSN) network," said Adam Sohn, director of MSN.

By tapping into the network, other technology providers will be able to use some of MSN's content and services to create their own products. For example, one provider has created its own messenger that translates instant messages between Japanese and Korean.

In addition to MSN messenger, Microsoft is also letting others tap into its search service, launched last year to compete against Google, as well as its MSN Virtual Earth, MapPoint, games and features in its browser toolbar.

Google also offers the ability to tap into its search database of more than 8 billion pages, as well as its desktop search, advertising system and its Google Maps service.

A spokeswoman from Google declined to say whether Google would be making more of its online features available as competition with Microsoft heats up.

Such features, known within the software industry as application programing interfaces, or APIs, give software programmers an easy way to link their own programs to other software, especially operating systems.

Microsoft is holding a major conference in Los Angeles this week to convince software developers to write programs for its products, particularly Windows and Office, which will be upgraded next year.

Industry watchers widely agree the biggest factor in the Microsoft's success in making Windows a monopoly was getting developers to write programs for the operating system.

Microsoft played down the competitive threat from Google.

"Everyone wants to single out MSN versus somebody," said Sohn.

But Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm based in Kirkland, Washington, said Microsoft has Google squarely in its sights.

"Microsoft is a notoriously paranoid company and I think they're looking to (a threat from) Google five years from now," Rosoff said.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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