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MSN Calendar goes from free to fee

Microsoft is roping off yet another free service and asking for subscription fees, its latest attempt to encourage people to sign up for its MSN 8 Internet service.

    Microsoft is roping off yet another free service and asking for subscription fees, its latest attempt to encourage people to sign up for its MSN 8 Internet service.

    This week the company is e-mailing users of MSN Calendar, an online calendar service, telling them they must subscribe to MSN 8 by June 24 or lose access to the service.

    "We regret to inform you that MSN Calendar will no longer be available as a free service as of June 25, 2003," says the e-mail, which also promises an improved calendar for MSN 8 users that will feature more printing and offline access capabilities.

    MSN representatives said the subscription plan was part of a continuing strategy to offer better services to paying customers. They also said they expected the subscription services to make up a larger part of MSN's revenue in the future.

    Many companies that currently offer free services are rethinking those plans as they try to turn a profit. Microsoft in particular has been under pressure for some time to beef up its MSN business. It had already started to charge for some services that used to be free, including extra storage in Hotmail in-boxes. Microsoft also has said it plans to make more services available exclusively to subscribers of MSN 8, an Internet service that bundles online services such as e-mail and instant messaging with dial-up access for $21.95 per month.

    The plan to make MSN Calendar available to paying members follows a similar move two weeks ago, when the company said that starting May 22, MSN Photo would be available only to MSN 8 subscribers.

    MSN posted a message on the front page of the photo site--where people can store photos and buy prints and other services and products--saying the service would soon only be available to those who pay. The move took some people by surprise because Microsoft didn't immediately send out e-mail notifying them of the changes.

    This time around, the company is notifying customers of the changes to Calendar by posting a notice on MSN and e-mailing customers one month before, and again two weeks before, it ceases the free service.

    Some users of MSN Calendar said they appreciated being notified of the changes via e-mail well in advance of the move, even if they don't necessarily plan to stick with the service.

    MSN Calendar user Jason Cruickshank said he wasn't surprised by the plan to offer the service to paying subscribers only, but he said it may not pay off, at least in the short run.

    "MSN may be switching over their services too quickly and might scare some customers off to Yahoo, which offers many of the same services for free," Cruickshank said in an e-mail.

    Cruickshank, a student in Manitoba, Canada, who uses the calendar to keep track of work shifts and friends' birthdays, said he plans to make the jump to Yahoo. He said MSN isn't yet offering services that are compelling enough to pay for.