From Academic Kids

MSN TV (formerly WebTV) is an Internet appliance developed by the WebTV Networks subsidiary (now Microsoft TV) of Microsoft Corporation. The appliance attaches to a television and provides proprietary dial-up Internet access.

WebTV Networks was founded by three veterans of Apple Computer and General Magic, Steve Perlman, Bruce Leak and Phil Goldman, in the summer of 1995. The company was originally named Artemis to disguise the nature of their business. Early versions of the device were built with ease-of-use and low cost as their primary design considerations, and were aimed at bringing the Internet to senior citizens and those without an Internet connection or personal computer. WebTV Networks was purchased by Microsoft for $400 million dollars in April 1997, before the company was even two years old.

An engineering marvel by any measure, the first WebTV device featured a proprietary operating system, filesystem, and web browser in just two megabytes of Flash RAM. No hard drives were present in these WebTV Classic boxes. The software was comprised of a TCP/IP stack, HTML rendering engine, JavaScript interpreter, audio engine (MP3, MIDI, Realaudio, and WAV), and video engine (Flash and MPEG). Video rendering for the television was done by a proprietary chip so the low-end StrongARM CPU could be freed up to process web pages.

Together with the monthly $24.95 service fee, the $200 box was affordable and well positioned to close the digital divide many technology pundits saw developing in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, the confluence of conflicting marketing messages, lack of educated consumers, and problems with the software, hardware, and dialup network plagued the rapid acceptance of the product. Even after dropping the price and rebranding the service, MSN TV subscriptions peaked at around 1 million in the early 2000s, even with the introduction of several new versions of the hardware, including the UltimateTV digital video recorder and a lower-cost version of the original WebTV Internet applicance. Coupled with the advent of affordable broadband Internet access, the set-top Internet appliance's days were numbered.

Microsoft turned to cable operators and satellite providers with their technology and struck deals to integrate it into the cable and satellite boxes released to their television subscribers, and now seeks to expand into the living room via the Xbox and Windows Media Center products.

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