MICROSOFT'S MSN unveils partnerships with United Airlines, Handspring

Tuesday, May 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ Microsoft's MSN division has formed partnerships with Handspring and United Airlines in separate moves announced Tuesday that further lay the groundwork for the software giant's planned set of Internet services called .NET.

Under the agreement with handheld computer maker Handspring, MSN will be the default homepage for Handspring's Web browser, called Blazer.

Because Handspring's handheld devices run on the Palm Inc. operating system, Palm Pilot users also will see MSN content first if they buy Handspring's Web browser software.

Handspring was set to release a new version of that software Tuesday. It will cost $19.95.

Both Handspring and Palm, the market leader for handheld devices, compete with Microsoft-powered PocketPC handheld devices.

Allen Bush, spokesman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Handspring, said the agreement had little to do with competition between the operating systems, and did not signal any willingness on Handspring's part to switch to the Microsoft operating system.

``For us the most important thing was just having a great content partner,'' Bush said.

MSN's Web site provides news, weather, e-commerce, financial services and other content.

In the agreement with Chicago-based United Airlines, Microsoft said it will provide a specialized Web browser and offer incentives such as frequent flier miles to United customers who switch over to Microsoft's paid Internet access service.

In return, Microsoft will be able to promote and market its MSN Internet services during in-flight videos, in the airline's in-flight magazine and through United's postal and electronic mailings to customers.

``It's a very attractive marketing vehicle for us,'' said Bob Visse, group product manager for MSN.

Both relationships are also key to Microsoft's efforts to cultivate a broad audience and a wide range of partnerships for its .NET strategy.

Still in the development phase, Microsoft has said that the final version of .NET will allow users to access personal data and services on any computer device, including competing platforms.

The .NET service could include anything from telling users whether or not airplane flights are on time to providing an automated system for making doctor's appointments. All such services will depend on partnerships with companies such as United and Handspring, and on convincing users to think of Microsoft beyond traditional personal computer uses.

``This all fits within that broader context of taking today what is primarily a PC type of relationship and building that out so we can work on various different levels,'' Visse said.

MSN has previously announced partnerships with Starbucks, Qwest and Citibank.