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And You Thought Your Education Was Expensive NOW…

There’s an uproar at Slashdot over Microsoft’s newly filed patent application for a “Metered Pay-As-You-Go Computing Experience”. The patent application argues that, when a person buys a computer they shell out for hardware that can handle the most demanding application they’re likely to use (a graphics-intensive video game, for instance), even if that application is only actually in use for relatively short periods of time — the idea that the average person uses their computer mostly for e-mail, word processing, and web browsing and only fires up the video games on the weekends or whatever. Unless they’re evil software pirates, they’ve probably spent $50-70 for that video game, too.

Without getting too technical, Microsoft’s solution seems to be to come up with a scheme where you pay a fee per hour to use certain “bundles” of software and hardware performance is somehow throttled to match the “bundle” you’re using.

While Microsoft claims in the application that “[b]oth users and suppliers benefit from this new business model” it mostly sounds to me like a way for software companies to fleece their customers. Nevertheless, it’s not hard to envision instances where a metered pay model might be superior (one commenter at Slashdot mentions spending upwards of $1000 several hundred dollars for Adobe CS3, which he uses only a few times a year).

In any case, Microsoft made a typically poor choice in choosing the examples that it decided to include in the illustrations that accompanied the patent application. One of them reveals that the company envisions charging users a fee of $1.15 per hour to use a “homework bundle“, which apparently would incorporate some future version of Microsoft Office, some kind of graphics software, and even your web browser (the Patent Office’s website was a bit squirrelly for me, so if you can’t see the image, you can find a screenshot of it here).

That paper about Racism, Capitalism, and American Foreign Policy you have to write for a Chuck Hunt class is about to start costing you a lot more than your sanity and dignity.

Of course, there’s a very high chance that this idea will never fly, at least in its current form. And if it does… I guess there’s always this.

  1. […] Governor, Ted Kulongoski, seems to be taking a page from the Microsoft playbook with his new proposal to replace the tax on gasoline with a mileage tax (volunteers in a trial […]

  2. Vincent says:

    Given that open-office is a completely viable alternative

    OpenOffice is only “completely viable” if you don’t really do that much with an office suite. The spreadsheet program is missing a lot of functionality in comparison with Excel and the PowerPoint stand-in (“Impress” or whatever) is a complete fucking joke. I’m not even sure that OpenOffice has an Access counterpart.

    I like OpenOffice for what it is — a pretty decent word processing program with a few other really mediocre office programs bundled with it. The price is definitely right. But Microsoft Office is just a really superior piece of software in every way except price.

    Sadly, I hear that the OpenOffice development team is withering, meaning new versions are going to be slower to arrive and might not be significant improvements. It’s a real shame, too. The world needs a serious competitor to MS Office, and there’s no reason that OpenOffice can’t turn into the “Firefox” of office suites… it’s just not there yet.

  3. Timothy says:

    Well, Microsoft is trying to capture more surplus. I think it’ll fail pretty badly, actually. Given that open-office is a completely viable alternative and has been for years and google documents are now completely great (my resume is a google doc), I can’t see why anyone would pay for MS Office other than if they REALLY needed a mediocre database manipulation tool.

  4. Vincent says:

    Red Hat is basically selling support, not a product. As a company interested in turning a profit, they figured out that selling individual copies of Linux is not a money-making venture. A support contract, on the other hand, is extremely valuable for corporate users who might require custom code or high-level troubleshooting.

    Because of the nature of free open source software and the GPL license, the exact same product as Red Hat is freely available to those who don’t feel inclined to pay for support as Fedora.

    In any case, I don’t disagree that a metered or recurring payment model is a good deal for software developers and, in some cases, makes a lot of sense (see: World of Warcraft). Microsoft’s particular version of the model, however, is really absurd and, if they carry it out the way they’ve outlined in the patent application, really bad for students and consumers in general.

  5. Burton says:

    Disclaimer: As of 2000, I was a “switcher”, when I bought the first titanium powerbook in all of Eugene after ordering it at the bookstore literally 30 seconds after El Jobs announced it at the Macworld Expo.

    That said, the best deal any software company could create (for themselves) is the recurring revenue model (aka “software as a service”). You don’t “buy” software or “license” software, you rent it. Since you’ll pretty much always need to create documents, if they could convince you to pay every time you use Microsoft Office
    instead of just paying once every 3-6 years, they would be far better off. (You, of course, would most likely NOT be better off, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    This inanity isn’t isolated to Microsoft, although they’re probably the most desperate to find a new, recurring revenue stream since they can’t count on growth anymore. Red Hat, for instance charges you an annual support fee to run their software, but since you can’t (easily) get updates without you, you’re essentially paying them a recurring fee to use their software. (That’s just the first example that comes to mind.)

    In my (extremely humble) opinion, this isn’t a good move and poor students – who are using their computer 10-15 hours per day – aren’t going to see $1.15/hour as a better deal than the way it used to be, where they could buy a copy of the software for $150 (student edition) and be good for 3-ish years.

  6. CJ Ciaramella says:

    I found your mom to be a very robust operating system.

  7. Vincent says:

    Yeah, I use Ubuntu on my home desktop machine, too.

    The biggest downside to using Apple software is Apple’s business philosophy — selling the “whole package” instead of just the OS or the hardware, etc. — which results in premium prices and a crippling lack of consumer choice. That’s the appeal of free open source software: It’s 100% free and always will be. The downside is that it takes a certain amount of patience to get familiar with and is still not quite ready for “prime time” on the desktop.

    Nevertheless I think it’s a mistake to say that Linux is any more or less reliable than MacOS X given that OS X is based on BSD. I run 10.4 (“Tiger”) on my Powerbook and I’ve found it to be a very robust operating system.

  8. Betz says:

    I shouldn’t be as surprised by MS’s busniess model proposal considering the rather dickish and bullying moves Microsoft has made in the past, but this really takes me by surprise.

    I actually have been using Ubuntu on my personal machine for about several years now. I switched when I was required to work on the Linux OS for a computer-science class project, and wasn’t provided any machine of my own to work on. Since then, I have not switched back, and have not regretted it. Ubuntu and other distros of Linux operate on one single philosophy, and that is free-distribution. You may also know it as open-source, or free-software, but its this guiding principal which has made Linux and its variants the most widely used and implemented OS, beating out both Windows and Mac.

    I can understand MS’s rationale behind their proposal: “On Demand” services and business models are extremely popular in our generation (Comcast “On Demand” , Netflix, and Xbox Live are just some quick consumer examples I can think of), which makes sense … at the service level. What Microsoft is confusing here is a service and a product. Does MS think that a customer should have to pay for a product, and then continue to pay every time someone wants to use that product to do something? That seems like an incredibly lousy business model, one which is really only implemented at the enterprise level of businesses … not consumers.

    What I also don’t understand is that a they can also “throttle hardware support” to match whatever bundle you are using. Simply put: I paid for that hardware – I should be able to have it running at maximum speed at all times! If I wiped the MS operating system and installed Linux, for example, would it run faster? Are MS software “safeguards” if you can call them that, inhibiting my machine for my “convenience?”

    By itself, this proposal is incredibly poor. It will alienate alot of customers that are used to Microsoft shops, and most likely drive them to alternative OS’s (Mac being the easiest available alternative, but I wouldn’t recommend it :/ …. Ubuntu is much more reliable than either OS, and is already tailored to resemble windows.) It would be much better if microsoft included a “fully free” version of software, where someone could pay the normal price for a piece of software (the same price as it would cost today), and let the customer have unrestricted access rights to that software. That would allow people to purchase and use software freely, and it would still provide “on demand” services and products to those people that only use photoshop two or three times a year, for example.

  9. Vincent says:

    In all likelihood this business plan will never be extended to web browsing and word processing, at least as some sort of mandatory thing. The pushback from the public and from educational/corporate institutions that use MS software would be insane. Not to mention that it’s unlikely that Apple would adopt the same strategy (They can’t! It’s patented!), which means that consumers would have a very clear alternative.

    The patent application mentions stuff like using a metered pay model for in-car GPS systems and similar things. I think there’s a good argument to be made that the idea makes sense in that context, but charging people by the hour to use a word processor and a web browser on a special computer that can throttle performance the way they’re talking about? Gimme a break.

    That’s why their decision to use “charging students to use our applications for homework” seems like a really bizarre example to illustrate their proposed new business model.

    College students are probably among Microsoft’s least reliable customers — Apple has the “hip” factor and any university with a computer science department is going to have a reasonably sized contingent of Linux/BSD/Solaris types. I’d say that awareness of realistic alternatives is probably more widespread on college campuses than almost anywhere else outside of the IT or graphic design fields.

    Very confusing.

  10. This is their strategy to counter Google Docs?

    Microsoft forever. Not.

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