Microsoft charges customers for free services

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

Thousands of customers are paying almost $120 USD per year to Microsoft for an Internet subscription service that includes e-mail, security, and other features.

But Microsoft gives away almost identical services absolutely free in Windows Live and the Windows operating system itself, while neglecting to inform those who pay through the nose.

Free Windows Live eclipses MSN Premium

Microsoft’s for-pay service, known as MSN Premium, is a collection of broadband features that must be accessed through a special browser: MSN Explorer. Once downloaded and installed, this browser supports Web surfing, an interface for e-mail and calendar programs, and Microsoft’s online encyclopedia, Encarta Premium. Other features, such as an included digital image editor, are accessible by launching a separate application.

MSN Premium is typically marketed by Internet service providers who are Microsoft’s partners, such as Qwest and Verizon in the U.S. and Bell Sympatico in Canada. (Qwest currently offers Windows Live instead of MSN.) Consumers can also purchase MSN Premium directly from Microsoft Online Services. The current version, according to the Microsoft site, is MSN Premium 9.5, which costs $9.95 per month in the United States.

According to page 11 of a PDF file on the Bell Sympatico site, more than 8.2 million people worldwide subscribe to MSN Premium. Microsoft does not release figures on how many of these users pay the monthly fee, and how many receive MSN Premium as part of a bundle from their ISPs.

The subscription service was first launched for broadband customers in 2004. Since then, however, Microsoft has released a new collection of Web services under the Windows Live brand, new versions of Internet Explorer, and service packs for Windows XP — all free — that duplicate the features that MSN Premium customers pay precious money for each month.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2008-01-03: