Microsoft's local ‘push’ project attracts the big brands

Microsoft has enlisted most of the country's leading content brands to provide local "push" channels for its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser. The New Zealand Herald, TVNZ, TAB Sports, National Business Review and Xtra head the list of local channel publishers, and all are well advanced with developing content. September 30 is the official launch date for IE 4.0, and for the local channel services. New PCs from that date will ship with a version of Windows 95 which incorporates IE 4.0 - and in which up to 10 buttons will be pre-configured with the local channels.

Microsoft has enlisted most of the country’s leading content brands to provide local "push” channels for its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser.

The New Zealand Herald, TVNZ, TAB Sports, National Business Review and Xtra head the list of local channel publishers, and all are well advanced with developing content.

Computerworld understands New Zealand Travel and the news aggregate site New Zealand City have also signed on as content providers, with MSNBC and PointCast providing international news and information.

September 30 is the official launch date for IE 4.0, and for the local channel services. New PCs from that date will ship with a version of Windows 95 which incorporates IE 4.0 — and in which up to 10 buttons will be pre-configured with the local channels. Existing users will be able to obtain IE 4.0 by download or via a $15 CD.

Contracts with all the providers have been negotiated over the past few months by Microsoft New Zealand’s Inter-net business manager Terry Allen, who says some of the content -providers had read of Microsoft’s push plans and contacted him. “But for the others I tried to take the perspective of a consumer who perhaps wasn’t that Internet-savvy.

“Currently it’s quite hard to go out and find content. So I tried to look at the kind of topics they’d be interested, in and the brand names in the New Zealand marketplace, and to bring that to them in an easy way.

“The trick for the push channels will be to make sure the content’s constantly changing and is interesting enough for people to want to keep it switched on.”

Although PointCast, which pioneered the push concept, has found a home mainly in the business sector where users have network Internet connections, Allen says IE 4.0 has been designed to work for dial-up users too.

“The push technology actually gets around the slowness of download speeds by dialling up in the middle of the night and getting the information in one hit. So the user sits down in the morning and pushes the NBR button, and it’s there. And it’s all using dynamic HTML, so it’s a pretty rich user experience.”

Although Microsoft’s channel definition format (CDF) file format allows users to set regular update times, it seems many of the providers will be pitching for the “breakfast” audience, with the Herald, for example, making its stories available from 6.30am daily.

The channel providers signed final contracts relatively recently, and seem to have had differing views on the original Microsoft proposals. The Herald, for example, rejected exclusivity clauses tying it to Microsoft platforms, and Xtra is thought to have done likewise. But NBR, already a Microsoft site, had no quibbles with the provisions.

Both TVNZ and the Herald plan to provide multimedia content, but their videos are likely to be in QuickTime rather than in Microsoft’s own ActiveMovie format.

Allen says IE 4.0 and CDF have a number of features designed to avoid the bandwidth bottlenecks many fear will be the result of a widespread shift in Internet use from browsing to push. “We actually worked with PointCast to develop some of the technology.”

The new browser will launch simultaneously with the IE administration kit, which allows corporate IS staff to centrally administrate all browsers on a network — and, if necessary, close off their push settings.

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