Microsoft plans to start rolling out a redesigned MSN.com on Wednesday in the U.S., the first major update for the page in more than 10 years.
Frequent visitors to the site will immediately notice one major change: The new page has only half the number of links as the old one. That's a sharp departure from the previous design, which featured around 40 links on just the top third of the page. The site has also dropped the trademark blue background for a simpler white page.
The new design aims to address user feedback and complaints, said Erik Jorgenson, corporate vice president for MSN. Customers said they want a single site that is easy to use, he said.
"What they don't like is too much clutter," he said. Users also said that they sometimes had a hard time finding what they were looking for, they were dissatisfied with search results prior to the launch of Bing, and they said the site had an outdated look and feel.
Microsoft called Wednesday's launch a preview of the redesign, meaning it will appear for some people immediately but will become widely available in the new year. Those who don't immediately get the new site can visit preview.msn.com to see it.
The site is now divided into just a handful of sections, many of which are fed information that may be personally relevant to the specific user.
For instance, a box in the lower right corner of the home page includes three tabs: Windows Live, Facebook and Twitter. The Facebook tab shows a list of friends' recent updates to Facebook and lets the user update their Facebook status from the MSN page.
A box in the lower left corner of the page displays local weather, headlines and events. Clicking on the local link launches a new page, MSN Local Edition. That page uses Bing search to draw in local news and information. It also displays more detailed weather information and a local map where users can view traffic data. The site draws on users' IP addresses to deliver local information to them.
Microsoft will also be testing out a version of the home page that uses Silverlight. That page won't launch Wednesday, but in the future people who have Silverlight installed may begin seeing the page.
In the Silverlight version, clicking on the Twitter link, for example, pops up a box where users can view updates as well as trending topics. Around 50 percent of MSN.com users already have Silverlight, Jorgenson said.
Yahoo, Microsoft's biggest portal competitor, also recently redesigned its home page, but with different results. The Yahoo page still includes a long list of links to other pages and otherwise mainly features a list of links to news stories.
Yahoo users can build themselves a customized page to include instant messaging, stock quotes, e-mail, weather, calendar and other tools.
MSN will also still offer MyMSN, a customizable page, but Microsoft has found that not many people use it. "A large majority of users aren't willing to put time into customizing and personalizing," Jorgenson said.
The new design represents a change in thinking at MSN. "We've moved away from the days of being an Internet directory of everything to everyone," he said. Instead, MSN wants to deliver useful content across areas that it believes users find most important, Jorgenson said.
As many as 100 million people in the U.S. visit MSN.com each month, Microsoft said.