Microsoft is working on an update to its MSN 8 Internet software subscription product, company executives confirmed.
The product, which Microsoft refers to internally as MSN Premium, or MSN 9 is aimed at broadband Internet users. It will be released before the end of the year, confirmed Yusuf Mehdi, head of Microsoft's MSN Personal Services and Business division.
Microsoft is also considering launching an online music service to rival Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, Mehdi said. Such a service would likely replace Microsoft's current service offered in partnership with Pressplay.
However, plans for a music service are still in the very early stages, if they could be called plans at all, according to Mehdi. Demonstrating that, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said on Thursday that he does not see a music service as a money-making service.
"It is maybe a feature your platform should offer, but it's not like you're going to make some (big) markup," Gates said in response to analysts' questions at Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting at the company's Redmond, Washington, headquarters.
Microsoft sells MSN 8 in a handful of countries, including Spain, the UK, Canada, Japan and the US.
"MSN 9 will be our first global presence subscription service," said Lisa Gurry, group product manager for MSN.
New features will include a pop-up ad blocker, improved picture sharing as part of MSN Messenger and a tool called the Outlook Connector that will make an Outlook email client work with MSN email and corporate email systems, allowing users to view their various in-boxes in one client and combine and share calendars, Microsoft said.
Microsoft partners with broadband access providers to deliver MSN Internet Software, but also sells the product direct. This latest model, dubbed "bring your own access" or BYOA, is increasingly important for Microsoft and its chief rival AOL as the number of dial-up subscribers continues to drop and users switch to broadband.
MSN currently claims it has 8.6 million subscribers, the bulk of those are US dial-up Internet access customers. "Over time we will see that shift and the largest bucket will be our premium service customers," Gurry said.