Setting up Spaces is refreshingly simple--if you have a Microsoft .Net Passport account, that is. If you don't have an account, you'll have to sign up with Microsoft first. The .Net Passport allows you to use your e-mail address and a single password to log in to any Passport-participating Web service or site.
Unlike its competition, the MSN Spaces setup screen is confined to one page. Here, you'll type in the title of your blog (for example, My Six Months in Spain), your blog's Web address name (for example, http://msn.spaces.com/members/mysixmonthsinspain--where you provide only the last part), and your local time zone. Next, you click a box to accept Microsoft's user agreement. Once your Space is set up, you'll need to decide whether you want your blog to be public or private, accessible only to your MSN Messenger contacts.
Within seconds of setting up our account, Microsoft e-mailed us a confirmation. The interface for MSN Spaces has a pleasantly clean look--no clutter. But it's not so simplistic as to hide its many menu options. Not only do you know where you are at all times within your Spaces management area, Microsoft liberally sprinkles in helpful text to guide you throughout the blogging process.
Having a personal blog is all about having an online identity, and one of the only disappointments is that Microsoft does not offer a richer choice of MSN Spaces layout designs. Blogger.com offers dozens and dozens of customer-provided blogging designs, which makes Blooger.com's service very rich and varied. In contrast, Microsoft Office clip art supplies the familiar yet boring choice of designs available within MSN Spaces.
MSN Spaces is on a par with its competition (there's no perfect blogging tool, and all have pluses and minuses). One very useful feature on MSN Spaces that we have not seen on other blogging tools is an easy and integrated way to view traffic statistics (the number of visitors/page viewers) and referrers (who is directing traffic to you) to your MSN Spaces.
MSN Spaces gives you an easy way to create lists of music and share photos and blogs via Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. However, one glaring disappointment in this version of MSN Spaces is the lack of a WYSIWYG editor, such as the one in TypePad. With Spaces, you can use bold, italics, and other formatting only if you know the right HTML formatting codes. For advanced users this will be fine, but it won't be for many new bloggers wanting to spice up their text.
As with all Microsoft products, MSN Spaces includes an extensive internal help system, which answers a broad range of questions. Live support is provided by e-mail only, and Microsoft promises to answer support questions within 24 hours.