Thursday morning, Microsoft announced the immediate release of MSN Messenger 7.0, its latest consumer-oriented instant messaging (IM) solution, and MSN Spaces, its Web-based blogging service. Both products are highly integrated with each other, and with various other MSN services, including Hotmail, MSN Music, and MSN Search.

"People all over the world are spending more of their time communicating online and MSN is providing the services they use," said Blake Irving, Microsoft corporate vice president for the MSN Communication Services and Member Platform group. "We continue to invest in services that create meaningful, personal and emotional connections for our customers, letting them express themselves in ways that suit them best."

With over 155 million active users exchanging over 2.5 billion instant messages each day, MSN Messenger is one of the most often used Internet services ever created, Microsoft notes. MSN Messenger 7.0 expands on the capabilities of previous versions by adding access to the free MSN Conversation service, providing improved video conferencing capabilities with full-screen video viewing. MSN Messenger 7.0 also includes free high-quality PC-to-PC audio chatting, integration with cellphone text messaging, numerous personalization improvements, photo sharing functionality, and much more.

Microsoft is also working to reduce IM-based electronic attacks, though the company is being understandably vague about the technologies its implementing behind the scenes. "We've responded to the increase in SPIM-type attacks by taking steps on the back end," Larry Grothaus, the Lead Product Manager for MSN Marketing told me during a pre-release briefing. "Safety and security are big concerns, and we also give users the ability to various security settings \[from directly within Messenger\]." Messenger 7.0 will also optionally integrate with your anti-virus solution and scan IM-based file transfers, Grothaus told me.

One interesting aspect of MSN Messenger 7.0 is that it will support optional advertising that lets companies such as early adopters Adidas, Sprite, and Volvo integrate their brands seamlessly into the product. Note the term optional: MSN Messenger 7.0 will support user downloads of theme packs that include this product branding. MSN Spaces will also be advertiser-based: Microsoft announced that Volvo is the first company to advertise there.

MSN Spaces, though vaguely described as a blogging service, is really a simplified Web publishing system for consumers that is particularly adept at creating scrapbook-type home pages, with text, lists, photo slideshows, links to favorite music, and other personal content. MSN has tripled the storage space of each Space to 30 MB, enough for 750 photos, Microsoft says. And for personalization, the service now includes over 50 new high-quality backgrounds.

MSN Spaces has been enormously successful since its beta release in December 2004. "We had over 4.5 million people start their own Spaces during the beta," Grothaus told me. That figure probably represents a good chunk of all online blogs, which isn't too shabby for a beta version of Microsoft's first blog software. 170,000 Spaces are updated daily, Microsoft notes. Spaces also offers users good security controls: You can configure a personal space to be open to all users, viewable only by those on your MSN Messenger contacts list, or viewable only by those in your Hotmail contacts list.

You can download MSN Messenger 7.0 from the Microsoft Web site . To start your own blog, or find out more information about MSN Spaces, please visit the Microsoft Web site .

Both MSN Messenger 7.0 and MSN Spaces are major releases with many new features, so I'll be reviewing both products on the SuperSite for Windows. My MSN Messenger 7.0 review will be available later today, while I expect to post an MSN Spaces review early next week.