Microsoft announced yesterday that MSN Premium, its next-generation broadband Internet service, will debut in early January. MSN Premium, which is based on the new MSN 9 code that will ship around the same time, will include several additional technologies over its dial-up brethren, including advanced spam filtering, antivirus tools, unique multimedia features, and a firewall. Microsoft is positioning MSN Premium against AOL 9.0 Optimized, a similar premium broadband-oriented service that market-leader AOL launched this fall.
   Microsoft will bundle McAfee Security's VirusScan and Personal Firewall Plus with the subscription, along with basic versions of the Microsoft Money financial-management package, the Encarta encyclopedia, and the Picture It! photo-management and -editing application. The company will also give MSN Premium subscribers 11 email addresses, 25MB of storage space for email messages, and 10MB of storage space for email attachments (and 10MB and 3MB for secondary accounts, respectively). Thanks to the bundled MSN Connector for Outlook, subscribers will be able to access their email through Microsoft Outlook. MSN Connector for Outlook, which Microsoft first revealed this summer at its annual financial analysts meeting, entered beta testing 2 months ago and lets users more quickly access Hotmail and MSN email, calendar data, and task data through Outlook; users can also use the software to share calendars.
   MSN Premium will cost $9.95 a month when added to existing broadband access or about $45 per month for the full ISP package, depending on your broadband provider. These prices compare favorably with AOL 9.0 Optimized, which costs about $5 more per month than MSN Premium, Microsoft says. In addition to the dial-up version of MSN 9 and MSN Premium, Microsoft is also testing a new MSN product called MSN Plus, which will also ship in early January. MSN Plus will operate in the middle ground between MSN 9 and MSN Premium and will cost about $5 a month, according to sources. MSN Plus doesn't include any of the value-added software Microsoft bundles with MSN Premium.