Microsoft launches new software subscription service

Microsoft will begin selling its Office programs as a subscription service starting in mid-July.

Called Equipt (formerly code-named Albany), the package combines Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition, Windows Live OneCare, the security and PC management service, and other free services for $70 a year, which covers three PCs. Microsoft Equipt will be sold in nearly 700 Circuit City stores in the U.S. starting July 15.

The annual subscription covers updates, and will save consumers money, analysts say. Dave Methvin wrote in InformationWeek's Microsoft blog: "Folks, they're giving this thing away." He wrote that the price of Windows Live OneCare security software alone is $50 a year. Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition sells for $150. "Equipt can be used on up to three systems, which brings the cost per system to less than $24 a year."

Bryson Gordon, a group product manager for the Office group, told the Associated Press that said Equipt is geared for people who wouldn't ordinarily buy Office and a new computer at the same time, pirating a copy or "repurposing" their old disks instead. He said the same people, however, are open to the idea of spending extra money on security software. The $70 price of Equipt is between the high and low ends of popular security programs from McAfee Inc. and Symantec Corp.

Microsoft Equipt offers the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote; Windows Live OneCare; Windows Live tools, such as Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger, and Windows Live Photo Gallery; and the new Office Live Workspace, allowing users to save documents to a dedicated online Workspace.

One potential drawback: it doesn't include Outlook. Gartner analyst Michael Silver said: "Larger small businesses already have offerings like this through Microsoft's open-licensing program, but the pricing and licensing is more commensurate with prices businesses pay. Small businesses can probably expect something like this suited to them in the future, but may have difficulty buying this version in particular because it does not contain Outlook."

Technology analyst Rob Enderle wrote, "I've been running Office Student Edition and One Care on my PC for several months now to get a sense for whether I could actually live with this product. The only thing I missed was Outlook, which I was able to download from my hosted Exchange service provider allowing me to get a 'full Office experience.' This wouldn't be an issue if you were using another e-mail client."

As the computer industry changes from desktop-only programs to those accessed online, Microsoft is going to have the change too, Silver told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I think this is Microsoft's foray at getting people used to paying an annual fee."

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