Rumors fly: Is MSN for sale?

Microsoft refuses to comment, but rumors were flying Friday that the software giant was trying to unload its online server, the Microsoft Network, for $1 billion. A spokesman for Microsoft simply said that the rumor was "wildly inaccurate" and "poor reporting." Naturally, I felt compelled to mention it in WinInfo.

The rumors began when ABC News quoted an unidentified MSN executive as saying, "There's no doubt \[the sale\] will happen. It's just a matter of the right time. If they announce plans for a sale at the wrong time there could be a huge backlash and investor mayhem."

ABC indicates that potential buyers include America Online and Netscape. MSN has grown from a shoddy little Windows 95 add-in to a wonderful, browser-based online service, though I'm one of the few people to notice that. MSN's subscriber base has remained stagnant at 2.5 million for almost a year. That's a shame, frankly, as it has the nicest interface of any online service right now. Regardless, the subscription level is disappointing since an installation icon for MSN appears on the desktop of every Windows 95 user.

Analysts are playing both sides of the fence as the rumors circulate. Most believe that Bill Gates will not admit defeat so quickly, though selling the unit would relieve the bottom line a bit: MSN loses millions of dollars each year. It would also be a sign that Microsoft cannot simply force itself into the content business and will likely remain a supplier software and services for the foreseeable future

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