Alas, it is finally no more. The MSN TV box, originally known as WebTV, is finally closing down forever on September 30, 2013. Of course, most folks thought it had shuttered years ago; the hardware hasn’t been sold for close to a decade.
WebTV was a revolutionary box in the mid 1990s when it launched. Back then, the average computer cost well north of $1,000 and getting online was still pretty rough. WebTV brought the whole experience — e-mail included — to the average home in a set-top box with wireless keyboard. You could surf the web (slowly), shop and do almost everything that a regular PC could do.
Of course the limits of the product became apparent fairly quickly. Using a TV as a monitor meant that everything had to be enlarged, and that made information-dense sites hard to use. As the web went to sound and video, MSN TV (as it had then become known) couldn’t keep up. By the early 2000s the service was still used by a few grandmothers but it never took serious hold in most living rooms.
The idea of bringing the internet into the living room was way ahead of its time. Today we talk about streaming features and browsing using the TV or tablet as commonplace, but that’s only because technology finally caught up with WebTV’s hopes and dreams.
The few folks who still have WebTV will have to move to computers, finally, but it’s been a long, cool ride for one of the original consumer internet products. The Verge writes a fitting eulogy, praising the little box for its vision.
I personally recommended this box for the conference room of the company I worked for back in the late 1990s. It did everything it needed to back then, giving the company a hint of high-tech. A few years later it was already gathering dust, but it had served its purpose.
Farewell, WebTV. You’ve done your job well.