Okay, be honest: raise your hand if you even knew that MSN TV (formerly WebTV) was still in operation. Apparently it is, but not for much longer. Via CNET comes news that Microsoft is shutting down the dial-up service and ending support for all of its TV-connected hardware on September 30, 2013.
Of course, some of you readers may be too young to even remember what WebTV was all about. Back in the good old days of the Internet — circa 1996 — WebTV hit the market as a way for people without computers to browse the interwebs and check email via a set top box that connected to the TV. As you might imagine, given the lack of HDTV at the time, it was hard to read and not much easier to use. A friend of mine recently summed up the failure of WebTV by saying, “The problem is, you had to own a computer to understand how to use it, and if you owned a computer, why would you need WebTV?”
The other problem was, well… this:
Don’t fast-forward. It is important.
After being snatched up by Microsoft in 1997, the service (and set top box) was renamed MSN TV in 2001, but although I’ve seen a few WebTV units in the wild in my days, I’ve never seen an actual working example of the latter. So you’ll forgive me for not knowing that this was even a thing anymore. As for why it’s ending now — a decade after most of us forgot that it even existed — Microsoft says:
WebTV (later called MSN TV) started in 1996 with the goal to bring new people “online” and to give those already online an easy, hassle-free means of accessing the internet from the comfort of their homes. Later, MSN TV 2 was released with vastly greater power and features. Since then, the web has continued to evolve at a breathtaking pace, and there are many new ways to access the internet. Accordingly, we have made the difficult decision to end the MSN TV service on September 30th, 2013. We are working with our customers to ensure the transition is as seamless as possible.
If, for some reason, you still have one of these dinosaurs, Microsoft also adds this humorous tidbit to the MSN TV Closure FAQ:
Do I need to return the MSN TV set-top box to Microsoft after the service ends?
No. The MSN TV set-top box is yours to keep. If you plan on discarding your set-top box, we highly recommend that you recycle it. Most cities offer electronics recycling. You will need to check your area to find out what’s available.
Current MSN TV users will have until the end of September to transfer their emails to Outlook.com and their photos to SkyDrive. Although, seriously, I doubt any of those customers are reading this right now. Hopefully Microsoft will distribute the announcement via faxed mimeographs, as well.