As expected, Microsoft released the final version of MSN Explorer Wednesday, offering users a friendly and simple front-end to the company's MSN Web properties. Based on Microsoft's Internet Explorer technology, MSN Explorer provides a stunning first look at the future .NET user experience, which will eventually be offered in most of its products. In keeping with the premise that America Online (AOL) is its number one competitor, MSN Explorer is clearly aimed at converting AOL's 25 million users to a simpler and less confusing alternative. But AOL also unveiled a new version of its client software Wednesday, ensuring that the battle for eyeballs will continue for years to come.

"We are delivering a more integrated, personal experience on the Web where consumers can find all the content and services they want in one place," says Microsoft marketing VP Yusuf Mehdi. "We're also giving more control to consumers so they can customize what they want to see. And we're focused on delivering simplicity and ease of use so consumers can get more out of their online experience. We want consumers to feel as comfortable on MSN as they are in their own home."

MSN Explorer features a sleek new user interface, which wraps around a Web browser window and provides an integrated experience with MSN services such as Hotmail and MSN Instant Messenger. The company is touting the services as a new "home on the Web" for consumers, who should be happy with the simplified interface. By contrast, the AOL application typically opens a number of windows, making it confusing for its users, who are often not technically savvy. Not to be undone, however, America Online also released an update to its client software. Dubbed AOL 6, the new software features enhanced email, improved address book and calendar, and an integrated multimedia player.

To download the new MSN Explorer, please visit the MSN Explorer Web site