Office subscription service won’t be on demand

Microsoft has released further details of its Office 2007 subscription service – and says the software won’t be on demand.

Office subscription service won't be on demand

The package – codenamed Albany – combines Office 2007, the OneCare security suite, and various other free Microsoft services into a single-installation pack, that will be available on a subscription basis.

But unlike Fasthosts’ controversial £5 Office rental service, Albany won’t be on demand, instead requiring an up-front yearly subscription fee from users.

In fact, the beta software currently being tested in the US isn’t even downloadable. “It’s an installation from one CD,” claims Chris Rothwell, Office product manager at Microsoft, in an exclusive briefing with PC Pro. “It’s a rich-client piece of software. It’s not streamed, it’s not downloaded.” Although Rothwell adds that “various distribution methods are being discussed.”

Rothwell refused to be drawn on the price, but considering that Office 2007 Home and Student edition and OneCare can be bought separately for not a great deal more than £100, Microsoft will have to be careful not to over-price its annual subscription fee. “It will have a much lower cost of acquisition at the beginning,” was the only comment Rothwell was prepared to make on its potential price.

End of subscription

So what happens if a subscriber fails to renew at the end of the year? “If you let your subscription lapse you move into reduced functionality,” claims Rothwell. “Office can read all your documents, but can’t create new docs.” OneCare, meanwhile, will continue to scan your PC, but won’t be updated with the latest definitions, as is standard practice with most antivirus vendors.

Given the threat of software expiring and not a tremendous amount of money – if any – to be saved, why would anyone bother with Albany? “Pure simplicity” is Rothwell’s answer. “We’re bringing it together in a simple install,” he says of the various Microsoft packages.

Subscribers will also be automatically upgraded to the latest version of each software when it becomes available.

And what of Fasthosts, the company that continues to offer Office on demand for only £5 per month, despite Microsoft’s claims that the web host was breaching its licensing terms? Rothwell refused to comment on the companies ongoing legal wrangle, although three months after Microsoft said it was working with Fasthosts to “rectify this situation”, the web host continues to offer the software-on-demand service.

Bizarrely, Rothwell doesn’t regard Fasthosts as a threat to Albany. “I wouldn’t describe it [Fasthosts] as a competitor. Any streaming Office service is targeted at businesses,” he claims, despite the fact that Fasthosts £5 service is pitched directly at students and families.

We suspect this battle is far from over.

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