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MSN Photo no longer a freebie

Microsoft says people who have been using the service to store their photos have two weeks to download their images if they don't want to lose them.

Attention MSN Photo users: You have two weeks to subscribe to MSN 8 or download your photos if you don't want to lose them.

On May 22, MSN is planning to offer its photo service only 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. Currently people do not have to pay to store photos with MSN Photo.

The move is the latest effort by MSN to turn formerly free services into paid ones. MSN already has started to charge for some services that used to be free, including extra storage in Hotmail in-boxes. In an attempt to get more paying customers, Microsoft has said it intends to make other services exclusive to MSN 8 subscribers.

"It sounds like sort of a continuation of a trend we're seeing, which is to make MSN into a break-even business if not a profitable one," said Matt Rosoff, industry analyst with Directions On Microsoft. "It just shows that they are under some pressure from the rest of the company to turn the corner and make some money."

A representative of MSN said the company decided to start offering photo storage only to MSN 8 users because the free service was turning into a drain on resources. Many photo users would upload their photos, but then wouldn't come back to update their photo collection or buy prints and other services. "It's taking up a lot of storage and costing a lot of money," the MSN representative said.

So far, the company is notifying people only through a posting on the front page of its photo site that their pictures will disappear after May 21. "After this date, all your photos will be removed from our site and you will no longer be able to access them," the statement reads. "We ask that you please take action today, so you don't lose your valuable photos." The company has not yet sent out an e-mail warning people that they might lose their photos, but said it plans to do so.

Meanwhile, some MSN Photo users aren't taking so kindly to the proposed changes, especially those in regions where MSN 8 dial-up services is not offered. Sharib Anis, who's used the site for about two years to store more than 200 photos of family and friends, is livid that he wasn't notified about the changes until he visited the Web site. What's more, Anis lives in Singapore, where MSN 8 dial-up services aren't available, so he would still have to pay for Internet access from another provider, even if he decided to buy MSN 8 services.

"MSN is behaving like an arrogant shop and doesn't care two hoots about its customers," said Anis, who plans to move his photos to Yahoo's site.

Though the company has yet to send out an e-mail warning, the message on the site--and the chance to download photos for free before the deadline--is more than other companies have done. A few years ago as many dot-coms went bust, some storage companies simply folded, meaning people who lost their files were . Other sites essentially held the files and photos hostage, requiring people to pony up money for a CD containing files that were no longer available on the site.