MS offers consumers free Web hosting

Microsoft this week made yet another foray into the territory of the largest online consumer-service provider, America Online, by announcing the availability of a beta site that provides free hosting of Web communities.

The offer is open to any users, whether for a private family site, a public hobbyists site or a business site, and the only limitation is a site size of a maximum of 30Mbytes, said a Microsoft spokesman.

AOL's offer is called Hometown, while Microsoft went with the concept of community. Both offer step-by-step tools for creating homepages, uploading pictures and establishing online chat.

Just week before last Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, invaded another turf where AOL is a dominant player by releasing its Microsoft Messenger for Internet chat and instant messaging.

The two companies are presently engaged in a dispute in this arena. Microsoft wants AOL to open its software to enable users of Microsoft Messenger and the users of AOL Instant Messenger and AOL's ICQ to communicate. However, AOL so far has refused.

Microsoft's new Web hosting offer is meant to facilitate "sharing information with friends, families and colleagues", says a company statement. A site can be public, listed in a community directory, or private, with new members added by invitation only.

The user gets his or her own URL under the "communities" umbrella. However, Microsoft demands some information from those wanting to establish their own Web sites in order to issue the necessary "Passport".

The users of Microsoft's free e-mail service, Hotmail, can get the passport without providing additional information. Currently, there are 40 million Hotmail users. When Microsoft acquired the service in December 1997, it had 9 million users.

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