Integrated Premium

I never thought I’d say this, but the MSN Premium service rocks! I received a coupon for a free trial several weeks ago, only to discover I’ve had access to all the premium features for the past year thanks to my DSL connection. Granted, that doesn’t speak well for Microsoft’s ability to communicate the value of the service, but I’m excited to learn I could have accessed all the features ages ago.

Why is MSN Premium cool? Baseball fans get access to all online baseball broadcasts as part of MSN Premium. The Outlook Connector for Hotmail is part of the package, meaning no more logging in via the Web interface and wading through painfully slow pages in order to organize your Hotmail account. An online version of Microsoft Money provides Premium users with a fully-integrated money management tool. McAfee Personal Firewall Plus and VirusScan are part of the package. A version of Photo Story is integrated with the Premium package. And to top it off, Encarta Premium offers all the reference materials a person could never need.

For anyone without a MSN-powered DSL provider, the service is only $10 per month. The McAfee product two-pack requires an annual subscription which is $5.40/month. Encarta is $2.50 monthly. Money isn’t available to non-MSN premium subscribers, so it’s hard to put a price tag on the financial services. Baseball fans get the best deal, considering a subscription to games is $14.95 per month by itself. Throw in the convenience of checking Hotmail from Outlook and the entire package looks like a huge bargain. I just wish I’d realized I had all these features ages ago.

What don’t I like about MSN Premium? Some of the features are only accessible through MSN Explorer, which is a custom version of Internet Explorer. This aspect of the service is both a blessing and a curse. For some reason pages load slower in MSN Explorer compared to load times in standard IE. On the other hand, MSN Explorer has a killer sidebar feature (or Dashboard, as they call it) with quick access to MSN Messenger contacts, weather info, my Hotmail inbox, the MSN calendar feature, investment details, tasks, and several other configurable options. The Dashboard undocks from MSN Explorer and remains on the side of your screen, which means using standard IE is no problem. On my widescreen laptop monitor, Dashboard takes up so little room, I find it a welcome addition to my workspace.