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MSN Premium review: MSN Premium

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MSN's excellent parental controls are easier to find in the new version, and its improved spam filter caught about 80 percent of the junk we received--that's not as good as standalone filters, such has Norton AntiSpam, but better than MSN 8.0. Finally, users of Outlook 2003 can access their MSN in-box from inside the e-mail client, view MSN and Outlook schedules side by side, and drag files between them--a handy feature for folks who like to manage their personal and professional lives from one place.

The only real glitch we encountered in MSN Premium was performance. We ran into occasional problems getting the software to launch on an older PC, as well as problems running other applications at the same time and getting the MSN home page to load correctly. Granted, our 800MHz Pentium 4-based Dell Dimension 4100 test bed (with 128MB of memory and Windows 98 SE) was dated, but we'd wager it's not unlike many home PCs today. Even though our test bed's specs were at or above the minimum requirements listed, we repeatedly received warnings telling us that we were low on system resources. We did not experience similar problems with MSN 8.0 on the same machine, which should come as no great shock since a Microsoft product always requires more power than its predecessor.

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MSN's broadband video page was pretty to look at, but we couldn't get any of the clips to play on our test system.

We also were unable to play video files on MSN broadband; according to MSN support, we needed more system resources, even though our PC surpassed the minimum requirements and videos on other Web sites played just fine. Your mileage may vary, but MSN subscribers with older PCs will likely pay a price in performance.

Good help is truly hard to find these days, but MSN's support is generally first-rate. Along with EarthLink and AOL, MSN is one of the last bastions of toll-free, 24/7 phone support. MSN also has made its information more accessible; a new Status And Support page quickly summarizes each part of the service and the time you last connected and gives you links to phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and online chat options. We made three calls to support, and a technician answered the phone almost immediately each time, though the person couldn't always solve our problems. We also sent e-mail to support, getting a response in less than 24 hours as promised. Chat support was less impressive; we waited 20 minutes to connect with a technician before we gave up.

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MSN's Status And Support page serves up a quick snapshot of your most recent activities; clicking a feedback link automatically e-mails a connection log to tech support.

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