MSN TV died today after a lingering illness, shortly after celebrating its 17th birthday. It is survived in Microsoft's consumer products division by the Xbox and the Microsoft Mouse. In lieu of flowers, Microsoft requests that somebody please buy a damned Windows Phone already.
As AllThingsD's Kara Swisher has reported, Microsoft is shuttering its MSN TV service in September, ending a saga that dates back to the early days of dot-com madness.
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The service began in 1996 as Web TV, a set-top box startup that was determined to bring this newfangled InterWebs thing into America's living rooms. The pitch was convincing enough to persuade Microsoft to drop $425 million for the company in 1997, despite the fact that hardly anyone had ever seen one of these things in the wild.
Six years later it morphed into MSN TV, a low-cost dialup service for couch potatoes with roughly 1 million subscribers at its peak. (Web TV was also briefly classified as munitions and banned from U.S. export thanks to its sophisticated 128-bit encryption technology -- the one and only time Microsoft was considered a danger to anyone but itself.)
I had a Web TV box in my living room for a few weeks. It worked about as well as you could expect. Viewing Web pages ona 27-inch Zenith TV was fun for about 15 minutes, mostly because it was such a new thing. The charm wore off quickly when I discovered that to move around a Web page I had to hop from hyperlink to hyperlink using the Tab button on thewireless keyboard.
When I heard that Microsoft had acquired Web TV, I remember thinking: Well, that's the last we'll see of that. Essentially it was. But Microsoft's $425 million mistake is hardly the only blunder made by high-tech companies with more money than sense. It's not even in the top five.