Content on the new XtraMSN portal will stay on a non-Microsoft platform - for now.
Xtra uses Vignette's highly proprietary Story Server content management platform. Although others, such as INL and TVNZ, have taken up Story Server in the 18 months, none has the experience of Xtra in working with what can be a complex product.
But Microsoft is likely to be unwilling to contemplate in the long term a joint venture which is not based on its own products. Alexandra Stewart, the director of MSN for the South Pacific, said at a briefing yesterday that Microsoft has already talked to Xtra about moving its (Unix-based) back end to a Microsoft platform.
Xtra consumer general manager Rod Snodgrass showed off a "draft mock-up" of how the new joint-venture site might look, with Microsoft services such as Microsoft Instant Messenger, HotMail and MSN Communities integrated.
Those Microsoft services will be hosted in the US, rather than locally. Stewart said they might eventually be hosted here and Snodgrass said that he would be working with technical staff to ensure the service was not "degraded" by the long hop across the Pacific.
The question of who would actually be in charge of XtraMSN was clarified yesterday - Friday's original announcement said only that Xtra would "manage the operation, development and marketing of the new consumer portal."
A general manager to run the merged service will be appointed by Telecom, with with MSN "having some role in that process". There will also be an "advisory board" with members from both Microsoft and Xtra. Microsoft New Zealand's Paul Muckleston, Stewart and a technical staffer from Redmond will represent the Microsoft side on board.
The new deal will see the end of an arrangement by which the New Zealand MSN portal has been managed from a distance by Microsoft's joint venture with the Packer-owned PBL, NineMSN. The portal had a difficult birth - it initially failed to appear when a domain name was not switched over - but it is now one of the most-visited sites by New Zealanders.
Most of that traffic is driven by the fact that Internet Explorer defaults to MSN on new PCs, and by HotMail, and Stewart admitted
the site has been "a reasonably thin experience for the user. We haven't had a lot on our site."
She said the Xtra deal would "deepen the experience", but denied that NineMSN had ignored NZ: "their direction was to focus on Australia. I'm sure they could have done a good job, but having local people do it is a better result."