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To be fair to the folks at The Microsoft Network, they don’t give up. Over the past few years since it first launched with what could well be described as one of my favourite community ISP’s ever (I met most of the people I work on this site with on MSN version 1), we have reached MSN Version 9.
So what are the basic changes since MSN Explorer 8:
The Microsoft Network is not aiming for advanced users, that is something we have to get out of the way first as a lot of reviews criticise it for being too childlike in appearance, MSN takes aim at families who want to get online and use the Internet with ease. MSN’s main rival over the years has been AOL, which continues to improve and do well even now with increased competition.
MSN Premium has a number of improvements over previous versions; firstly the look of “My MSN” has been made a lot better and now allows you to drag information windows to wherever you want them to be. It has a much better style than previously, and looks quite modern now. Also the design of MSN’s UI has also been tweaked a bit, with additional options on the dashboard and a better look and feel throughout.
Next we have the additions of the Virus Guard and Firewall from McAfee® Security, an excellent addition to the program. You can take advantage of McAfee VirusScan to help protect your computer and you can help keep your computer safe from online intruders with McAfee Personal Firewall Plus. Both are included free with your MSN Premium membership.
You also get a “Pop up guard” this neat program stops those pop up windows from cropping up when you are reading websites online. You can either get MSN to show a very small thumbnail of the pop up or remove it completely so you can never see it. It’s a nice addition, even if I do feel for some sites that will lose revenue from this and other pop up defeaters, but then again we should all be looking for better ways to advertise online than forcing pop ups.
One of the main advantages to signing up to MSN Premium for me was being able to sign up a total of 11 accounts, all of which can login to MSN Premium wherever they like if they have an Internet connection. I’ve already added various family members to our account to test this out, it works fine and each member gets addition hotmail account space.
Other additions this time round come in the form of additional components like Microsoft Picture It! Express 9 a photo editing program which lets your organise your photos on your PC for use with your MSN account. It allows you to edit photos by removing red eye and such like, and lets you print out your photo collection, so another good addition to MSN Premium and again – any member of your account (or even users of your PC) can download and use it.
We also get the online version of MSN Money Plus, this lets you organise your finances and also helps you pay those bills. There is the online calendar, MSN Video which provides broadband enabled video for MSN subscribers and finally we get MSN Encarta Premium.
Once again you get the usual MSN basics like MSN Messenger (no enhancements to the downloadable version), and Hotmail with a much improved interface. The only downside to MSN Premium is that you sometimes wonder what you are actually paying for as a lot of the services are free online like MSN Entertainment, Hotmail (apart from the additional space), Search, shopping, chat and others, but the ones you are paying for like MSN Encarta Premium, MSN Money Plus, Picture It Express! 9, the calendar and more are good online applications and will get used by family members.
The service keeps up to date itself too, this is done in the background for you when you are online, although it pays to have a fast internet connection as the downloads, like Picture It Express! 9 are large in size when you download them.
How does everything compare to AOL? Well it’s hard to say as they wouldn’t give me a review account so they get a bad mark already, especially when MSN has been so helpful explaining things to me.
Overall MSN has a good package for the money that a family might pay for a good internet services provider like MSN, especially with all of the additional accounts you can add, so that you can make use of MSN no matter where you are and have e-mail accounts too. Everything works well together, it is also very easy for novice computer users to use, something that is vital when you are aiming a service at families and basic ‘Net users.