Microsoft and pay-as-you-go: Been there, done that

Much is being made of Microsoft's recent patent application for a pay-as-you-go service model. But many seem to forget Microsoft has been experimenting with this model for the past couple of years via several different programs.

Much is being made of Microsoft's recent patent application for a pay-as-you-go service model. But many seem to forget Microsoft has been experimenting with this model for the past couple of years via several different programs.

One of these pay-as-you-go programs is FlexGo. FlexGo, in its 2006 incarnation, was a fairly complex program involving hardware, telecommunications, retail and financial services partners, Microsoft began testing pay-as-you-go rentals of Windows XP PCs and software in Brazil, India, Mexico and Russia. In 2007, Microsoft started to shift its FlexGo focus to a pure subscription model for Vista PCs and software.

Another pay-as-you-go program Microsoft has been testing in various countries revolves around Office. The Office Prepaid Trial program also launched in 2006. In the initial trials, Microsoft relied on system builders to sell users cards that provide them three months' worth of Office 2003 usage for a set fee. With FlexGo, an entire PC system — hardware and software — is leased; with the Office Prepaid Trial program, only Office (either Office Small Business or Office Student and Teachers Edition) is rented out.

Both FlexGo and the Office Prepaid Trial programs still exist. FlexGo seems to be known now as the Unlimited Potential Group's Subscription Computing Program (SCP). The Unlimited Potential team also is in charge of the current Office Prepaid Edition program.

The pay-as-you-go patent for which the Softies applied dates back to the summer of 2007. I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft extend these kinds of trials to the U.S. -- something officials said they'd consider but so far have yet to do. It also will be interesting to see how/if new offerings like the forthcoming Office Web applications alter (or doesn't) Microsoft's pay-as-you-go plans.

If you could buy Web browsing, gaming and/or business computing time by the hour, would you prefer that to doing your computing locally? Do you think hard economic times could drive more users to a pay-as-you-go model? Or will users simply embrace a Windows 7 netbook running Google Docs (or Microsoft's Office Web apps) as the new cheaper computing platform?

Update: Microsoft's pay-as-you-go patent application was shot down by the Patent and Trademark Office.

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