MSN Toolbar Bops Pop-Ups, Works Search

  |  January 26, 2004   |  Comments

MSN joins the toolbar fray.

Microsoft Corp. launched a beta version of its MSN Toolbar offering easier access to its services including email and search, as well as a customizable pop-up ad blocker, on Monday.

The release marks MSN's entry into the toolbar space, already pioneered by its rivals both in the portal space and the search space.

Users of the MSN toolbar can access a variety of services, including their Hotmail Web-based email accounts, MSN's instant-messaging software, My MSN and MSNBC.com, in one click. The toolbar can be downloaded for free and set to appear just below the one already appearing in the browser.

A search box accompanied by a magnifying glass and a "search" prompt appear on the far left-hand corner of the toolbar. The move to promote the MSN Search engine suggests a shot across the bow of search giants Google and Yahoo

The search function, in addition to being easily accessible, has some unique functions, Redetzki said.

"When you get your search results and click on a link to go to a site, a four-inch-tall pane comes up in the site and shows you the bottom half of the page you searched for, so you don't have to scroll down" Redetzki said. "Also, the word you searched for shows up highlighted on the page."

Rival portals including Yahoo and America Online, a unit of Time Warner , already offer pop-up blocking. Yahoo introduced its own toolbar with pop-up blocking and other features last November. AOL does not currently have a toolbar, but is expected to launch one later this year. Google also has a toolbar which was released in 2000 and updated last August with a pop-up blocking capacity.

MSN's new toolbar is the company's first free pop-up blocking offering. Previously, MSN only offered pop-up blocking through MSN Premium, a $9.95 per month package offering such services as email management along with the pop-up guard.

"The MSN Premium pop-up blocker has a thumbnail with a mini-version of the ad that's being blocked," said Redetzki. "It allows users to customize what they want to view or don't want to view." Users can click on the thumbnail to see the ad if they choose.

The pop-up guard in the toolbar is "more straightforward," Redetzki said, and doesn't have the thumbnail.

However, users can customize it to turn on and off and there is an animated counter that shows how many pop-ups are blocked. Users can specify if they want to get pop-ups on a given site.

Pop-ups are the ad format that users love to hate (according to Forrester Research, 64 percent of Net users find pop-ups annoying and 28 percent avoid sites that have them), nonetheless, advertiser use of the format went up dramatically in 2003, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. The research firm said pop-ups accounted for 7.4 percent of all online ad impressions in Q3 2003, up from 3 percent for the same period last year.

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