PRODIGY BOOTS UP NEW INTERFACE

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Prodigy is embracing the Internet in a series of new initiatives designed to buck up the struggling online service.

Prodigy went to the Consumer Electronics Show last week to demonstrate an all-new interface, dubbed P2, that will give subscribers increased Internet access and allow Internet content providers and advertisers to be instantly linked to Prodigy.

The interface, due out by April, will eliminate the billboard-type ads that currently cover the bottom 20% of every screen.

"We now will have little advertiser icons on the screen that can connect the user to an advertiser's home page on the Internet," a Prodigy spokesman said. "It really puts a larger range of companies and information at our subscribers' fingertips."

Sometime this month Prodigy also will give all its subscribers a free World Wide Web browser.

The moves come as Prodigy, a joint venture of Sears, Roebuck & Co. and IBM Corp., struggles to keep subscribers from jumping ship to younger, more nimble online services like America Online.

"Prodigy is definitely in a come-from-behind strategy," said Mary Modahl, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. "They are making absolutely the right moves-doing content providers and advertisers a favor-but whether they can blunt the momentum of America Online is doubtful."

Fast-growing America Online now has more than 1.5 million subscribers, compared with Prodigy's 2 million. CompuServe tallies 2.5 million.

"I wouldn't consider this a last-ditch effort by Prodigy to win subscribers, but they, like all services, are looking for more expansive ways to connect with consumers," said Ted Leonsis, president of AOL Services Co. "The publishing industry is enamored with the Internet, and Prodigy should be given credit for the concept, but it's not like it's revolutionary."

"Strategies for the futures of the three major online services have been to not concede defeat at the hands of the Internet, but to allow themselves to be consumed in the `Internetcentric' view of the world," said Gene DeRose, president of Jupiter Communications, a New York consultancy.

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