Microsoft to charge for Office 2007 beta downloads

In what I can only imagine is a stimulus response experiment worthy of Pavlov, someone at Microsoft has decided t ocharge $1.50 for the privilege of downloading the public beta of 2007 Microsoft Office system (small "s").

In what I can only imagine is a stimulus response experiment worthy of Pavlov, someone at Microsoft has decided t ocharge $1.50 for the privilege of downloading the public beta of 2007 Microsoft Office system (small "s"). In a wild flight of fancy on a Saturday morning, I can imagine a conversation like this taking place somewhere on the campus in Redmond:

Softie 1: " Hey... here's an idea. Let's charge people to download the beta of Office 2007. Not a lot... say a couple of bucks. If we annonced that, I bet we could cause a stampede of downloads before whatever arbitrary date we decided to announce. Think of the potential adoption numbers we could cite!"

Softie 2: You really think that would work? Wouldn't people hate us for charging money for a beta? Has anyone ever gotten away with that before?

Softie 1: Sure. Don't you remember back when Apple first released their beta, er... "Preview Edition" of OS X? They charged for that. 'Course it was an actual CD with a small booklet."

Softie 2: "Wow. I had forgotten that."

Sofite 1: "I say we do it. There's not a lot of downside. People are slamming us anyway for slipping the release so many times. And, once the deadline for free downloads passes, we've created another revenue stream!"

Sofite 2: "Brilliant!"

Softie 1: "Brilliant!"

Note: the preceding is a complete and utter work of fiction. The conversation never took place. Oh... and apologies to the cardboard cutouts in the Guiness commercials. No copyright infringement intended.

To read real-life reports and commentary on this "unusual" decision, see Techmeme. A Microsoft spokesperson is quoted in C|Net's report on the decision as saying:

"Since the end of May, Beta 2 has been downloaded more than 3 million times...That's 500 percent more than what was expected," the spokeswoman said. "The fee helps offset the cost of downloading from the servers."

"This is the first time Microsoft has charged for an Office beta, and it's not something that is planned for on a repeat basis," the spokeswoman said.

Uh-huh. Silly me. I thought the license fees we all have paid for Office 2003 and earlier versions generated profits that went, in part, to fund R&D (which, last I checked, included conducting beta tests). Ah well. If you haven't downloaded the public beta release, you have until August 2 to get it for free. After that, be prepared to pony up a buck-and-a-half.

Hey... I wonder if you'll be able to pay that fee using Google Checkout? Heh.

Update: No sugar-coating from the Central Desktop blog who wrote:

I'm not sure Microsoft's concerns about the "cost of downloading" is helping their image. If they can't absorbe the costs associated with rolling out a Beta Program what does this say about their infrastructure? What does it say about their understanding of the marketplace and its users? When users are jumping to open-source solutions and looking for excused to actually give tools like Writely a chance....what does it say to them? And most importantly, how does this help their PR battle with Google in creating "the worlds greatest data center?" I thought Microsoft was going build large Google-like-Clusters of servers?

This isn't Microsoft competing fiercly against Google or anyone else. This is Microsoft being weak and stupid.

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