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No subscription-only Office for now, says Microsoft

Microsoft says software subscriptions are the future

By Shona Ghosh

Posted on 8 May 2013 at 13:50

Microsoft has said it might ditch standalone versions of its software in favour of subscriptions – but not for another decade.

The firm responded to a similar move from Adobe, which announced it would stop selling packaged versions of Creative Suite, its flagship software that includes apps such as Photoshop and Illustrator. Instead, Creative Suite users will now need to pay a monthly fee to access the apps in the cloud, meaning Adobe will ditch its annual release cycle and deliver continuous product updates.

Microsoft described Adobe as a "pioneer" and said the software subscription model was the way the industry was headed. "Like Adobe, we think subscription software-as-a-service is the future. The benefits to consumers are huge," said the firm’s communications director for Office, Clint Patterson.

But Patterson suggested that Adobe may have moved too soon in ditching packaged software entirely, noting that consumers could take up to a decade to grow accustomed to subscriptions. "In the meantime, we are committed to offering choice - premier software sold as a package and powerful services sold as a subscription," he added.

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed to PC Pro that the firm was considering a subscription-only model.

"We have not set a timeline for moving to subscription only, and we will continue to listen to customer feedback on how they want to get Office," said the spokesman.

Microsoft already allows users to subscribe to its productivity suite online with Office 365. Patterson said that quarter of consumers buying Office have opted for the subscription version, ahead of the company’s expectations and signalling that "the shift is faster" than it originally thought.

The company has also added a host of new features to Office Web Apps, which offers web-based versions of Excel, Word and other Office applications. Web Apps will now work on mobile Chrome browsers, meaning the apps can be used on Android tablets. It already works on Windows 8 tablets and iPads. Users will also be able to co-edit documents and review the changes without having to refresh the page, much like Google Docs’ real-time editing functions.

For further coverage of cloud computing visit our sister site Cloud Pro.

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User comments

Adobe

I asked our main software supplier about the Adobe situation when I saw the article yesterday (I emailed them a link to the article). Their belief is that Adobe will probably consider to offer packaged software as an alternative for now, but that Adobe haven't actually announced yet what they are doing.

The supplier concerned is an Adobe Platinum Certified Reseller.

By valeofyork on 8 May 2013

"The benefits to consumers are huge"

Really? There is some software that I use daily, where a subscription option may be similar to that of purchasing a licence outright. But what about other applications (for example Adobe Photoshop), which I use sporadically? Subscription just isn't cost effective to the "consumer".

Similarly, I often work on sites, that yes, shock horror, don't have connectivity to the internet. I still need to use applications such as Word and Excel, but with a cloud-based option, or a mandatory check to see if I'm subscribed, it just won't work.

Nor do I want to be pushed down the Microsoft SkyDrive method of storing my data, which is the method they will recommend through cloud based software (they already promote it heavily in Office 2013): I want and need to be able to store it locally or on my server.

Finally, do I really need regular, continual updates to my software? I've only just moved to Office 2010, which doesn't really offer much over 2003 in terms of use, and I'm a heavy user of Word and Excel. So the benefits to me are minimal: Having bought a licence for Office 2003 Professional nearly ten years ago and used it happily for nine of them, the subscription model just doesn't compare cost-wise.

The corporations have realised that they need to achieve a regular cashflow out of software which typically would have a lifespan of five to ten years. By introducing a subscription model, they force the consumer to pay regularly for the same product under the guise of "continuous updates" which deliver very little benefit to the consumer.

I wonder how long I'll be able to last on my version of Office 2010?

By MCunliffe on 8 May 2013

"The benefits to consumers are huge"

Really? There is some software that I use daily, where a subscription option may be similar to that of purchasing a licence outright. But what about other applications (for example Adobe Photoshop), which I use sporadically? Subscription just isn't cost effective to the "consumer".

Similarly, I often work on sites, that yes, shock horror, don't have connectivity to the internet. I still need to use applications such as Word and Excel, but with a cloud-based option, or a mandatory check to see if I'm subscribed, it just won't work.

Nor do I want to be pushed down the Microsoft SkyDrive method of storing my data, which is the method they will recommend through cloud based software (they already promote it heavily in Office 2013): I want and need to be able to store it locally or on my server.

Finally, do I really need regular, continual updates to my software? I've only just moved to Office 2010, which doesn't really offer much over 2003 in terms of use, and I'm a heavy user of Word and Excel. So the benefits to me are minimal: Having bought a licence for Office 2003 Professional nearly ten years ago and used it happily for nine of them, the subscription model just doesn't compare cost-wise.

The corporations have realised that they need to achieve a regular cashflow out of software which typically would have a lifespan of five to ten years. By introducing a subscription model, they force the consumer to pay regularly for the same product under the guise of "continuous updates" which deliver very little benefit to the consumer.

I wonder how long I'll be able to last on my version of Office 2010?

By MCunliffe on 8 May 2013

I don't want to pay an MS or Adobe tax

Which is what these subscription models effectively amount to.

Whether or not companies get away with this ploy depends on their customers having the nous to convert to competitor's software.

The Open office suit is perfectly adequate for virtually everyone and Paintshop Pro is certainly a good substitute of Photoshop.

The danger is that some lazy corporate types will take the easy way out and fork out the extra cash and make the model workable so that more and more manufacturer's move to it.

By qpw3141 on 8 May 2013

Huge benefits...

"The benefits to consumers are huge"

I think he actually wanted to say "The benefits to software vendors are huge"

By aa111 on 8 May 2013

It's rent with no option to buy!

Say I want to buy a house, I have the money, but I discover it's no longer legal to buy, I can only rent and the price over 3 years will be the same as it would have cost to buy. three years after I can no longer pay the rent because I lost my job, now not only am I on the street with no place to live, but I have nothing to show for the money I spent on the rent! How is that good for consumers?

By sandman652001 on 9 May 2013

@aa111

Couldn't have put it better myself.

The swap to Saas is aimed squarely at shareholder profit, and perhaps toward anti-piracy.

There are no tangible benefits for the end user what so ever.

I do however think that services such as Exchange Online are worthwhile for many, where the heavy lifting is actually done in the cloud, but without local replication these servies also have major weakness and will doubtless be targetted by DOS attacks and all the other usual carry on.

By Gindylow on 9 May 2013

@qpw3141

It depends on what you are doing. If you have a large catalogue of Office documents, with more than basic formatting, or they have macros or use plug-ins then swapping to OO.o is not an option.

I did use OO.o extensively, but when I started getting clients who use MS Office, there was no real choice, it was use MS Office or look like an ignorant fool, when swapping documents, because it deleted macros and screwed up formatting to such an extent that presentations and documents were unusable.

Luckily I had already bought, but didn't use, Office 2003 at the time (I had switched to using Linux as my main desktop).

Returning to Windows work on a regular basis, I've bought each new version of Office since, as well as having Libre Office on my machines, but it is no competition for "serious" work.

For me, the rental method works out much cheaper, at the moment. If I only bought a new copy every 10 years and I didn't use it regularly, then it wouldn't be good value for money.

By big_D on 10 May 2013

@MCunliffe

While the Office applications do phone home, they don't phone home before each use of the application, they do it on a periodic basis, so working on a site without Internet access is fine, as long as you occassionally have access to an internet connection elsewhere (it used to be 6 months, but I'm not sure how long it is now, as I am not usually away from an Internet connection for more than a couple of days at a time).

I haven't used the Creative Cloud, so I can't comment on Adobe's verification routines and how often they need to check in.

As a newcomer to needing Creative Suite, the Cloud version offers a cheap way onboard. There is no way I could afford the over $4,000 price for CS6 (the UK prices seem fairly sane, compared to European prices), but if I needed to get into it and start using it on a regular basis, I could justify 40€ a month or so...

By big_D on 10 May 2013

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