Microsoft to launch new Vista-subscription trials in early 2008

Summary:Microsoft is readying a new Windows-Vista based version of its FlexGo hardware-software-services bundle aimed at emerging markets for launch in early 2008. As part of FlexGo 'Next,' Microsoft plans to shift its emphasis from pay-as-you-go to subscription-based pilots.

Microsoft is readying a new Windows-Vista based version of its FlexGo hardware-software-services bundle aimed at emerging markets.

As part of FlexGo 'Next,' Microsoft plans to shift its emphasis from pay-as-you-go to subscription-based pilots, company officials said at the Windows Hardware Engineering (WinHEC) conference in Los Angeles this week.

Microsoft rolled out the first version of its FlexGo program in May 2006. With a group of hardware, telecommunications, retail and financial services partners, Microsoft began testing pay-as-you-go and subscription-based rentals of PCs and software in Brazil, India, Mexico and Russia.

A year into the trials, Microsoft has decided to shift its focus to subsciption pilots with 20 or so telcos in Brazil, India and Mexico, officials said this week.

Microsoft also is beginning to phase in Windows Vista into the FlexGo trials, officials said. Starting in the first quarter of 2008, Microsoft will begin offering all of the different 32-bit Vista SKUs via the FlexGo pilot program.

"In the past, you had to have a separate SKU for a FlexGo-enabled system. Now every version of 32-bit Vista will be offered," said Mike Wickstrand, a Director of Product Management with Microsoft's Market Expansion Group.

In explaining the pilot program's change in focus, Wickstrand acknowledged that pay-as-you-go had "high consumer appeal, but not enough usage for the financial institutions" providing credit to the user base. Given the explosion in availability of consumer credit, subscriptions are emerging as a more popular option.

Under the FlexGo program, users make initial down payments on mid-range PCs and make monthly payments for software and broadband services from their local telcos, much the way customers pay cable providers for TV and Internet access. Microsoft and its partners will allow users to sign up and pay for their subscriptions in a variety of ways, ranging from ATMs and point-of-sale terminals, to the Web.

FlexGo systems require activation and Windows Genuine Advantage authentication. Once subscribed, users will be reminded via notifications and account status screens, as to the amount of time they have remaining before their systems will move to "borrowed time," and, ultimately, a locked status for lack of payment. In order to unlock systems that have degraded due to lack of payment, users will need to obtain a code from the FlexGo partners.

During the latter half of this year, Microsoft will be adding new hardware to the list of systems supported under the FlexGo program, including AMD- Infineon ASIC- and Intel-based options.

Topics: Microsoft

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Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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