When did the shrink-wrap era really end?

Summary:Microsoft is moving toward a business model first pioneered in the mid-1990s by America Online.

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Microsoft has announced the end of the shrink-wrap era with a new set of services it calls Microsoft Live.

But didn't the shrink-wrap era really end years ago?

I believe the shrinkwrap era ended when the Internet era began, in the mid-1990s. Netscape wasn't bought at stores, it was downloaded. RealAudio, Flash, toolbars -- all downloaded.

The open source movement, in fact, is all about downloads. Most open source projects define their success based, first, on the number of times a project has been downloaded. The attempts by some to shrink-wrap open source products and sell them at the cost of packaging have, on the whole, been failures.

In fact I haven't bought a Microsoft software product from a store in years. Instead, I acquired them with my hardware. They were delivered by my OEM or a manufacturer. And it's updated online.

What Microsoft has done today is to try and tilt the market's reality back into a proprietary direction, placing a new business model on an old reality. The plan is to have a variety of paid tiers for online versions of Office, delivering basic functionality for the price of looking at ads, and more functions as you pay more.

That is a sea change. Microsoft is moving toward a business model first pioneered in the mid-1990s by America Online.

Topics: Microsoft


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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