Figure 9.33: Microsoft Network startup screen.
Microsoft Network, as of this writing, is not currently available. It is expected to become a major extension to Windows 95 (originally code-named Chicago). I wouldn't even mention it except for the fact that if Microsoft successfully deploys Windows 95 and all manufacturers start preloading the software onto their machines, then Microsoft Network will certainly become a force to be reckoned with.
If only five to ten percent of the people that launch the "Sign up with Microsoft Network" icon that comes with Windows 95, Microsoft Network could easily become the largest commercial online service provider -- bigger than all the other services combined. There is nothing like shipping access to an online service with the operating system.
I never was able to connect to Microsoft Network successfully, even though my modem tried several times. Because Windows 95 and Microsoft Network were both in beta at the time, I wasn't surprised.
Microsoft claims that Microsoft Network will have links to the Internet and that perhaps users will have complete Internet access. I doubt that it will be as flexible as using a SLIP or PPP account with a local service provider, but only time will tell.
The biggest advantage to using Microsoft Network is that it is both Microsoft- and Windows-centric. This is a clear advantage over both America Online and CompuServe, where in many cases you must wade through information not relevant to your platform. Of course, there are many nondenominational services such as financial information, travel, and noncomputer forums that are common to both.
Microsoft Network will probably supplant CompuServe as Microsoft's preferred mechanism for distributing files, mail, and other customer-related information, since it will be maintained either by Microsoft or by a Microsoft-appointed firm.
At present, it is a little unclear how users dialup to Microsoft's network. I do know that Windows NT implements its Remote Access Server as a PPP client. If this is also true of Windows 95 and Microsoft Network, then Microsoft could easily become the largest Internet service provider in the world. Microsoft recently purchased a significant chunk of UUNET Communications, a major Internet provider, to help launch Microsoft Network.
Coming up with advantages and disadvantages for a product that doesn't yet exist is an interesting challenge. We'll have to wait and see just how integrated the Internet services will be. As of this writing, nothing brings the Internet to the desktop quite like a real WinSock-based connection, and I'd expect that Microsoft Network will be no different. Tune in to the next edition of this book for more details.
The addressing details for mail destined for the Internet are currently undefined, although Microsoft Network will use Microsoft Mail Exchange, which Microsoft also has yet to release. Microsoft Exchange, like Microsoft Mail, uses a concept of Personal Address Books (PAB). You merely enter a friendly name, like Adam C. Engst, a fully formed mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org, and a mail transport, either SMTP or Internet. Once entered into your PAB, you can address mail by typing only a unique part of the friendly name.
How you'd send mail to users on the Microsoft Network from the Internet is also currently undefined, and to guess at specifics would be just that, guessing.
Microsoft has made it easy to sign up and connect to Microsoft Network. First of all, you merely open the appropriate "Sign up with Microsoft Network" icon and you're well on your way -- no software installation necessary. Modems are automatically detected and installed, the local phone number is acquired and dialed. The only thing you must really enter (besides billing information) is your area code and telephone exchange (first three digits of your seven-digit phone number). Or at least that's the theory -- we'll see how well it works in the real world of evil modems and noisy phone lines.
Pricing, like Windows 95 itself, is undefined and unavailable as of this writing.