MSN’s early Internet experiment

Photo: Microsoft

Back on October 31, 1996, Microsoft shipped ‘The Microsoft Network Premiere Membership CD’. On this CD-ROM was the installation software for MSN 2.0, an ambitious Internet experiment that proved to be ahead of its time. The flashy ‘MSN Preview’ that accompanied it is a must-see 1996 time capsule. So with the help of YouTube, I resurrected all of the video and uploaded it here.

September 20, 2016

Watch the video

Scroll down to read more about MSN 2.0 and about the video.

About MSN 2.0

In 1996, MSN 2.0 set out to be a radical shift and breakthrough in the way people would view content on the web. The MSN Preview was a guided tour of a mock premiere event for the new MSN that featured a variety of ostensibly “real people” representing the 6 channels of “On Stage”, the main section of MSN that was modeled after TV and focused on multimedia-driven entertainment. Most of the acting in the MSN Preview is pretty canned, but what else would you expect? This is ’90s Microsoft trying its best to figure out Generation X.

Unfortunately, the software was way ahead of its time. This effort from MSN ultimately failed after just a year because computers in 1996 weren’t ready for all of this content. I mean, people were trying to use MSN 2.0 on Windows 95 with 8 MB RAM and 14.4k dial-up modems. It didn’t go well. At the time, no one knew quite what to expect from the web anyway, so everything was up in the air and changing rapidly as the web started to go mainstream. In the MSN Preview, you’ll hear the actors talk about visiting websites and using email as if it’s something unprecedented, which to many people back then it was.

Of course, the web would ultimately become a place that everyone could browse on their own without relying on a single online service. By 1998, MSN.com would resemble what we think of as a “normal” website without all of this ambitious and flashy video-based content. Regardless, I think this is the most memorable and unique promotional item that Microsoft ever put together.

You can go learn more about MSN 2.0 on Wikipedia—and if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even download MSN 2.0 from the Internet Archive.

About the video

There are 8 parts to this video. Click to jump directly to a certain part of the video on YouTube, which will launch in a new window:

0:00 – Outside the theatre
0:45 – Inside the theatre’s lobby – Your eyes don’t deceive you: the girl who appears at 1:20 is Anna Faris. She was just a student in 1996; she became popular in 2000 for her role in Scary Movie
1:58 – Channel 1: MSNBC news, weather, sports – Watch a truly vintage MSNBC commercial from its initial launch in July 1996, hosted by Brian Williams
2:32 – Channel 2: showbiz, games, drama
3:09 – Channel 3: arts, nature, history
3:54 – Channel 4: self, health, wealth
4:31 – Channel 5: media, zines, attitude – The weirdest one BY FAR! Stay tuned for this part. This girl coined the phrase “too stupid to stop” that repeated on a loop in a piece of music that haunted some people during MSN’s installation process
5:07 – Channel 6: fun, teens, comics

The MSN Preview was filmed at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle in the summer of 1996 and edited between September 23, 1996, and October 9, 1996, according to the files on the CD-ROM. I couldn’t find any information about any of the other actors seen in the video. They all go uncredited.

You can watch and share the MSN Preview video on YouTube.

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