Microsoft will be trying the subscription model for its Office suite when the next version, currently in beta as Office 10, is released in 2001.
When the software is purchased for the cost of the first annual fee, it has software keys for each licence required. Licences will last for year.
During the last 90 days of the "rental" period, warnings appear on the screen and as the deadline approaches features will begin to be disabled if no action is taken. To avoid this, a new key can be purchased either via a retailer or over the Web, and the package will be refreshed. Alternatively, if a new version or an upgrade of Office has appeared, the Office package can be purchased as before for the cost of the licence.
David Bennie, Microsoft Office marketing manager, said the system is aimed at small enterprises and branch offices with up to 30 computers. "The need to visit each machine to renew the licence means that it will not interest larger organisations but the ability to have the suite at a lower price will appeal to smaller companies," Bennie said.
Pricing of the subscription option will not be announced until January.
At the moment, Microsoft is talking about the whole Office suite but Graham Fisher, an IT analyst at Bloor Research, would like them to go further. "It seems like a reasonable idea but why not make the applications downloadable over the Internet," he said, adding, "It's time suppliers started catering for the needs of their customers."