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Microsoft has launched a subscription version of Outlook that will connect to Hotmail or MSN accounts. For $59 a year (£39.99 in the UK), subscribers get a copy of Outlook 2003 for Subscription Services, 2GB of online storage and the ability to send messages with attachments of up to 20MB.

This is the first time Microsoft has made one of its products available through a downloadable subscription service. It will initially be available in the US, UK and Canada, where it will be available in both English and French.

Currently, users who have Outlook 2003 can import their email to Outlook from MSN or Hotmail. This service used to be free, but because of abuse by spammers, Microsoft said it had to limit the service's availability to Hotmail Plus subscribers ($19.95 annually) or MSN Premium account holders ($99.95 annually). The company says that with this announcement it is trying to offer more to those who have Hotmail accounts, but don't have a copy of Office on their machines.

Outlook 2003 for Subscription Services comes with spam filters and anti-virus technology. Customers can also blacklist up to 500 email addresses, Microsoft says.

The company has not ruled out the possibility of making other Office products available by subscription, but say it has no such plans as yet. This launch, then, is something of a testing ground. Microsoft will extend the service into other countries with similarly high broadband penetration levels.

Microsoft is launching the product at a discounted rate of $44.95 to anyone who signs up by 19 April 2005. In the UK, the discounted rate is £29.99. The press release is here. ®

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