There is much to like with the NEW MSN Premium from Microsoft.  Optimized for broadband, the service answers the needs we have all expressed.  I’ve been trying it out and I’m impressed with the way it works (on Windows PCs, but the Mac functionality is severely limited and, therefore, not the best solution for Mac users). All comments below refer only to the version for Microsoft Windows computers.

For $10 per month, or $100 per year if paid in advance, consumers can get a lot for their money, and it has worked very reliably on my Windows PC.  There is tremendous value in this package!

Start with up to 11 accounts for each subscription, so there is easily one for each member of the family.  And, there is plenty of storage – 25MB and support for attachments as large as 10MB for the primary account.  Secondary accounts include 10 MB of storage and support for 3MB attachments.

MSN Premium also puts powerful and sensible tools together, such as your MSN Mail inbox tied to your calendar and address book.  It just makes sense to have these things together.  Away from home, I can get all this functionality through logging on at www.hotmail.com.  Taking it even further, I can share my calendar with other subscribers or publish it to the Internet for anyone to see and at the same time, I can view others’ calendars alongside my own and even compare mine to MSN Group calendars.

MSN Designer E-Mail and Photo E-Mail. MSN Premium customers can easily share their digital pictures with friends and family through MSN Mail, MSN Messenger and MSN Groups (subscription includes 30 MB of MSN Groups storage). Subscribers can use Designer E-Mail to create content-rich e-mail messages and photo albums that can include photos, stationery and titles, but which are sent using efficient compression techniques to minimize their size, helping ensure they don’t clog up their friends’ and family’s e-mail inboxes. With the additional benefit of Photo E-Mail, customers can automatically have their original high-resolution images associated with their compressed photos and uploaded to 500 MB of temporary storage on the Web. Friends and family can view the photos in all their richness through a slide show or download the high-resolution images for printing.

MSN Photo Swap via MSN Messenger. MSN Premium customers can share their favorite digital photos with others in real time while they chat about the photos using the innovative MSN Messenger service. The photos are optimized for sharing over the Internet.

This is probably one of the most useful features of MSN Premium, providing instant gratification for all parties concerned.

Microsoft Office Outlook Connector for MSN. The new Outlook® Connector for MSN allows consumers (with computers operating on Microsoft Windows) to use Outlook XP or Outlook 2003 to manage their e-mail, calendars, address books and other information stored in an MSN or MSN Hotmailaccount. Consumers can save time by seamlessly managing their personal and professional information in one place, with a variety of views, and can easily drag and drop information between the e-mail, calendar and contact services.

With computer viruses such a problem, particularly for users of Microsoft Windows operating systems, MSN Premium users are protected with Virus Guard powered by McAfee Security.  At no additional charge, this software automatically detects and cleans viruses from email, MSN Messenger instant message files and downloads and includes automatic updates for persistent, up-to-date protection. What a terrific feature – NO virus updates to do, EVER.  Updates are constant and automatic.  You’ll never have to deal with them!  When MSN subscribers access their e-mail using the MSN software or a Web browser, McAfee technology automatically scans each message for known viruses while the messages are still on the incoming e-mail server. If a virus is detected, the message and attachment are cleansed automatically before they reach the customer’s inbox or machine.  This one service may well be worth the monthly cost of the service!

But what about Junk Email? MSN delivers multilevel junk e-mail protection, including Microsoft® SmartScreen Technology that helps ensure e-mail remains a useful communications tool. MSN puts customers in control of deciding the level of filtering applied to their account. MSN Premium customers can not only classify e-mail as junk, they can choose to have all junk e-mail seamlessly and unobtrusively reported to MSN or report it individually by simply right-clicking on the junk e-mail message, and then clicking on the Report This Junk E-Mail to MSN option in the context menu.

Pop-up Guard. With the new Pop-up Guard, customers decide which pop-ups they see and which ones they don’t. This feature uses smart technology to intelligently determine whether a pop-up being generated from a Web site should be presented or blocked.

MSN Parental Controls. Parental Controls were designed to deliver choice and help protect families by giving parents the tools they need to manage their children’s Internet use and help protect them from inappropriate content and communications. Consumers can use Parental Controls to select from three age-specific settings to help block inappropriate Web sites, or go further to block inappropriate Web sites by customizing site category blocking or blocking all sites except those designated on an allowed list. Parents can also receive a weekly e-mail report that details their child’s recent online activity, including the total time spent online, Web sites visited or tried to visit, e-mail addresses and MSN Messenger IDs of people with whom they corresponded, and files downloaded. Parents can manage their children’s activity through the Pending Requests option or via the online activity report, or interactively manage their kids’ online experience through features such as AskNow and Instant Block.

Digital Life Management

MSN Premium delivers features that offer a customizable experience and maximum value to people as they manage their digital lives. Whether it’s enriching the enjoyment of sharing photos with friends, helping a child research a school report, paying bills or personalizing their online experience, MSN Premium has solutions to help customers make more out of their time online. Features include the following:

Customizing customer experience. MSN Premium software includes a dashboard, which provides a customized and personal view of a selection of features chosen by the customer — from a photo show of their favorite photos to easy access to incoming e-mail, online contacts, their calendar and customized alerts, to a traffic map of their area highlighting current incidents. MSN Premium software also includes the ability to easily resize the toolbar and quickly add or remove icons, allowing customers to tailor their environment and be as productive as possible while online. MSN also now has a new, free My MSN, available to MSN Premium customers through MSN.com. My MSN has a new look, improved customization, the ability to create multiple My MSN pages and a greater choice of content, including broadband-specific content. My MSN can be customized easily by dragging and dropping content modules to provide easy access to consumers’ favorite content and communication services.

MSN Encarta Premium. The new MSN Encarta® Premium complements the innovative and compelling features of the No. 1 best-selling encyclopedia brand, Encarta Reference Library 2004, offering customers the flexibility of accessing learning tools and premium content through the Internet. This comprehensive online resource delivers a variety of tools and premium content to help people young and old discover their world:

–  Encarta provides a one-stop resource for reference content, including a comprehensive online encyclopedia, the Encarta Interactive World Atlas; the Encarta World English Dictionary and Thesaurus and translation dictionary; a multimedia center; searchable magazine collections; Literature Guides; and insights into great works of literature.

–  For children, Encarta provides a powerful set of tools across the service and in the Homework Center, with a wide array of topics such as math, history, English and foreign languages, to help families overcome daily academic frustrations.

Even without a project to pursue, I enjoy spending time with the premium content through Encarta.

MSN Photos Plus. This new collection of software solutions makes it fun and easy for people to view, organize, store, edit, create and share their photos with friends and family:

–  Picture It! Library 9 helps customers easily find, organize and view digital photos stored on their computer.

–  Picture It! Express 9 is an easy-to-use editing tool that gives people the ability to fix red eyes and adjust the contrast in photos. Advanced editing capabilities make it a snap to add frames, mats and fancy edges.

–  Photo Story Lite gives a fabulous finish to photos by enabling customers to take photos from their collection and add voice notes and music to create rich multimedia slide shows that may be shared easily in e-mail with friends or posted on MSN Groups sites.

MSN Money Plus. Online tools for virtually effortless financial management tools include the following:

–  A Dynamic Home Page gives customers continuously updated information on daily economic events.

–  An Online Bill Payer makes it easy to receive and pay bills online any time.

–  Connections to different financial institutions provide updated market analysis.

Personalized spending analysis and budget trackers help customers understand where their money is being spent and how to best manage it.

Something FREE for everyone, even non-subscribers is the new MSN Video, one of the most “fun” features at msn..  Windows users can go to www.msn.com and get MSN Video, a high-quality broadband video service that delivers free broadband content video to all MSN.com and My MSN visitors in the United States. The service enables consumers to easily create custom playlists and access a rich library of broadband content from a breadth of content providers. Built on Windows Media® Player 9 Series, MSN Video enables consumers to enjoy nearly instant playback of high-quality video from a range of content partners including NBC News, featuring segments from “Nightly News with Tom Brokaw,” “Today Show,” “Dateline NBC,” CNBC and MSNBC; Discovery Communications, with programming from channels including the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, The Learning Channel and Travel Channel; National Hockey League (NHL); NBC Entertainment with programming from the NBC Network including “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” reality shows such as “The Apprentice,” and popular programs such as “America Dreams” and “Las Vegas”; Scripps Networks, with programming from channels including HGTV, Food Channel, Do It Yourself Network and Fine Living Channel; Showtime Networks Inc., with special clips and interviews with the stars of the new original series, “The L Word,” as well as some of Showtime’s most popular original series such as “Soul Food,” “The Chris Isaak Show” and “Family Business”; and Weather Channel Interactive with content from the Weather Channel and weather.com.

MSN Premium costs $9.95 a month or $99.95 per year for U.S. subscribers and delivers ongoing updates and benefits.  Information is at www.msn.com.

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