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Internet Guide

Gadgets & Gizmos

November 02, 2000

MSN Explorer

* What it does: Combines Microsoft's Web browser, e-mail, instant message, audio-video, personal finance and online shopping services into a single software package.

* Price: Free.

* Manufacturer: Microsoft Corp.

* System requirements: A computer with a Pentium or faster processor, at least 16mb of RAM and 170mb of free hard-disk space, a 28.8 Kbps modem and Microsoft Windows 95, 98, ME or 2000.

* Niche: The first fruit of Microsoft's new .NET strategy, MSN Explorer is designed for computer or Internet newbies who want their Web in an easy-to-use package. Frequent travelers may also like the program's ability to store bookmarks, address books and other goodies on the Web so they can be dipped into from any Net-connected PC.

* The good: Microsoft capitalizes on its relationships with a variety of players--banks, retailers, entertainment companies, news outlets and the like--to deliver an integrated set of services that show off many of the Web's disparate attractions. For example, if you're willing to disclose your account numbers and passwords, the software can pull together all your credit card, bank, loan and investment balances. The package also includes a fair amount of storage on the Web for photos, files and other digital goods, making them easy to share or view while you're on the road.

* The bad: Not surprisingly, MSN Explorer tries to direct users to Microsoft-owned or affiliated services on the Web, and it gives prime space on screen to partners you may have no interest in. If you don't use MSN as your Internet service provider, the only integrated e-mail option is Microsoft's Hotmail, a free Web-based mail service that's been a magnet for spam. And if you try to use MSN Explorer at work, you may find several of the functions blocked by the corporate firewall, including instant messaging, bookmarks, personal Web sites and your Hotmail inbox. Oh yeah, there's no Mac version either.

* Bottom line: If you like Microsoft's Web services, such as Hotmail and Expedia, this software ties a convenient electronic bow around them. If you're a power user, however, MSN Explorer's bias toward Microsoft products feels more like an electronic leash.

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