Microsoft jazzes up MSN Spaces blogging service

Microsoft is testing new features in its MSN Spaces blogging service aimed at advanced users.

Microsoft has released new features for its MSN Spaces blogging service to make it more attractive to advanced users, a key MSN Spaces official announced in his Web log late Tuesday.

The new features, collectively called PowerToys, are the ability to create custom HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) modules, to play audio and video files, and to significantly customize user interfaces, Mike Torres, MSN Spaces lead program manager, wrote in his blog "Torres Talking" (http://spaces.msn.com/members/mike/). "PowerToys are special features in MSN Spaces designed specifically for you, the advanced users," Torres wrote.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft confirmed that the information on Torres' blog came from him and that it is accurate.

The new features are being offered in test mode and in English only for now, and those seeking help from MSN's support team on how to use them "will be out of luck" because the new features are "unsupported," according to Torres.

The custom HTML feature will allow users to do things such as adorning their MSN Spaces blogs with custom logos, posting large photos and adding text that appears permanently in a specific part of the blog, according to Torres. "The Custom HTML PowerToy is designed to allow you to add a sandbox module to your Space in which you can enter text, link to images, and use other HTML features," Torres wrote.

Meanwhile, the audio/video playback feature, called Windows Media Player PowerToy, will let users play audio and video files within their MSN Spaces blog. With this feature, users can save the address of a media file on the Web, and blog visitors will be able to play back the linked file, according to Torres. However, users still can't upload media files to MSN Spaces, he warned. The files have to be hosted elsewhere.

Finally, with the PowerToy called Tweaking your UI, MSN Spaces users will be able to customise to a very granular level the look of their blogs, a feature that, according to Torres, addresses "the single biggest complaint about MSN Spaces in just about every review to date." This PowerToy will give users more control than they currently have over things such as colors, borders and image placement.

Instructions on how to access these PowerToys features can be found on Torres' blog.

Torres also announced a test version of mobile features for MSN Spaces, which build upon early ones offered since mid-last year to MSN Spaces Japanese users. With the new mobile features, users can create an MSN Spaces blog from a mobile device, see a list of recently updated MSN Spaces blogs, post entries to their blogs, add comments in someone else's blog and change settings, among other things. The mobile features are available in multiple languages and "will work on most mobile devices," Torres wrote.

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