Microsoft has denied published reports that the company plans to make its commercial online service, the Microsoft Network, available for free on the World Wide Web.

“Some content will be there, but people will pay a flat fee if they want the entire service,” said a Microsoft spokeswoman Dec. 7.

She added that the report was likely a misunderstanding of the company’s plans to market the service via its Web page. With a plethora of Internet-related announcements coming out of Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash. headquarters, some confusion was perhaps inevitable, she added.

According to the spokeswoman, consumers will have the option of signing up for MSN from its World Wide Web site, http://www.msn.com.

No ‘branded’ content

The so-called “branded” content – material from NBC or Paramount, for instance – will not be made available on the Web.

The spokeswoman said, however, that some well known forums, such as Virtual Worlds, would eventually be made available free of charge.

Microsoft is attempting to position itself as being magnanimous with regard to its developers. “We realize the scope of the Internet, and we’re making it a lot broader for content providers,” said the spokeswoman. “We’re telling them they can build links out to the Web, to reach a wider audience.”

But if a provider has not signed an exclusive deal with MSN, such as the deal NBC signed, they are free to build as many Web sites or links as they want, with or without Microsoft’s blessing.

To sign up for MSN by way of the Internet, consumers must already subscribe to an Internet service provider, such as Netcom, Earthlink or the Wave Network, and must have Windows 95 installed on their computers.

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