The update formerly known as MSN 8.5 has landed. On Wednesday, Microsoft announced that an updated version of its MSN Internet access software, now simply called MSN 8 like its predecessor. The decision to not rename the product is due to the fact that subscribers will receive the update automatically: MSN 8 broadband users will automatically download the changes, while other users will receive it on CD in the weeks ahead. The MSN 8 update includes numerous enhancements, such as better anti-spam and parental controls, improved email, a customizable home page, and more.

"Since the release of MSN 8 last year, we've made enhancements to the service that have continuously improved the experience for subscribers," said Lisa Gurry, the group product manager for MSN at Microsoft. "With this update, we've used feedback from subscribers to create a larger number of improvements, and we've combined them into one update that will make MSN 8 easier to use and even more useful."

The collection of updates to MSN 8 include:

- Improved anti-spam filtering algorithms and an image blocking feature, similar to that in Outlook 2003, that prevents spammers from verifying that email addresses are valid; Spammers use such images, called Web beacons, to "phone home" when opened, thus verifying that an actual user viewed the email, opening them to more spam in the future.

- Email messages are blocked until they are scanned for viruses on MSN's servers, adding a layer of protection, even for those users that employ anti-virus (AV) scanning in Windows.

- New on-screen storage meter in the email component that visually alerts the user to the amount of storage space left in the inbox.

- A new way to filter email from those people in the user's contacts list, ensuring that you always see the email that's most important to you.

- An improved address book that makes it easier to add additional email addresses for contacts.

- An integrated IntelliSync feature that keeps MSN 8 email and data synchronized with Palm OS and Pocket PC PDAs, Outlook, and Outlook Express.

- Improved parental controls that make it easier for parents to control, monitor, and modify the way in which their children access email and the Web.

- Improved Web browsing with a fully customizable home page that can be set to any Web site, a Web site history list available from the address bar, and a collapsible dashboard, which provides instant access to email, weather, instant messaging (IM) contacts, downloads, and other features.

- Improved performance, reliability, and setup.