Metered computing: Another great argument for open source in 2009

Metered computing: Another great argument for open source in 2009

Summary: Metered computing, as outlined by Microsoft in a patent application, isn't the worst idea I've heard -- but it ranks up there with other spectacular failures like the original DivX, AOL dial-up, and the 2008 Detroit Lions.The idea, as outlined in this article by David Meyer, is that people would buy "heavily subsidized" (cheap) PCs, but then pay charges based on how much computing time and processing power they used.


Metered computing, as outlined by Microsoft in a patent application, isn't the worst idea I've heard -- but it ranks up there with other spectacular failures like the original DivX, AOL dial-up, and the 2008 Detroit Lions.

The idea, as outlined in this article by David Meyer, is that people would buy "heavily subsidized" (cheap) PCs, but then pay charges based on how much computing time and processing power they used.

Microsoft notes in the application that the end user could end up paying more for the computer, compared with the one-off cost entailed in the existing PC business model, but argues the user would benefit by having a PC with an extended "useful life."

"A computer with scalable performance level components and selectable software and service options has a user interface that allows individual performance levels to be selected," reads the patent application's abstract. The patent application was filed June 21, 2007.

Be sure to read the rest in Meyer's article. Note that this is speculation based on a patent filed by Microsoft: I'm not aware of any concrete plans from Microsoft to roll this out, but I thought it'd be fun to discuss.

If they do, however, I can't see it catching on. Who wants to monitor their PC usage for fear of spending too long online or using too much CPU or memory, lest they get a big ding in the form of a hefty bill at the end of the month? Just because people have put up with this sort of thing from their mobile providers, doesn't mean they'll get onboard for pay-as-you-go computing. In fact, the experience with cell phone bills is likely to make any smart customer very wary of Microsoft's metered computing idea. (Note that, on the enterprise side, having the same sort of ability -- to pay only for the compute time you use, makes much more sense -- but for home users? Not such a hot idea.)

The current proprietary software model for consumer PCs is bad enough. But license fees look like a bargain compared to metered computing -- which Microsoft acknowledges will increase the cost of ownership of a PC over the PC's lifetime. Aside from the cost factor, which is a pretty big downside to start with, there's the enforcement side. Part of metered computing is the ability to shut off service.

Picture this scenario, if you will: It's the start of a new billing cycle. You or one of your family members is sitting down at the computer to write that report for work or school that's due tomorrow. For some reason, a payment wasn't processed correctly, and suddenly the computer is locked up. Even if you do get the situation ironed out the same days, it's an hour out of your life getting it smoothed out. Or perhaps the validation server is down, and you're out of order for the next day while they get it smoothed out. This isn't far-fetched -- people have already been bitten by just this sort of problem with Windows Genuine Advantage.

Contrast this with the open source model: The up-front cost for a Linux distro is either free or very minimal (if you decide to pay for a physical copy rather than download) and the long term cost for updates and use is, well, nothing.

Odds are, this idea is in the nascent stage, and may never be rolled out. With the economy being what it is, I can't see any vendors making a straight-faced argument to ask customers to pay more for what amounts to less. Maybe I've been doing this open source thing too long, though, and gotten used to paying nothing for my desktop usage. Is there demand for pay-as-you-go, or does it get a big thumbs-down?

Topics: Open Source, Hardware, Microsoft

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  • Hasn't this been done already?

    Didn't we just spend 40+ years digging ourselves out from under precisely this very same business model? How can they even patent this? Because its for a PC instead of a mainframe? Oh boy, big difference. Madness.

    There is absolutely no reason to need a "heavily subsidized PC". My experience tells me that many people who need a subsidized computer would do just fine with free software. So go out and buy a $200-$300 Linux or OpenSolaris box and leave Microsoft in the ditch to rot. In general, even poor people (in the "developed" world) can afford a few hundred bucks if its something that can dig themselves out of the hole just a little further.
    • Maybe Microsoft are right on this one ...

      ... and the rest of the world is wrong.

      It would seem that people have been computing in the wrong way. As a result all sorts of terrible things have been going on. Too much freedom and the "personal ownership" framework is destroying our Western values.

      People "owning" computing resources was always a terrible idea. This is an enabler of all sorts of nonsense.

      There's a plethora of Operating Systems out there that we just don't need. The worst thing of all is that some are using their computers an awful lot, and doing things that they really shouldn't be doing.

      Take Open Source. This is living proof that, unless properly policed, anarchists will turn to anything, and are limitless. There are people out there as we speak creating software that is damaging Microsoft's bottom line. They're giving away this "work" for free. This should be illegal because it is essentially direct theft from Microsoft shareholders. Worse yet is that the FOSS crowd are duping people into believing that FOSS software works. Anybody with half a brain knows that only Microsoft can create software that works. My biggest fear is that, left unabated, these "programmers" will become emboldened, and we'll soon be at the point of burnt out cars littering the highways, shops looted, random murders and worst of all, use of illegitimate copies of Microsoft's Windows Operating System. The military should act now before it's too late. We need a Guanfossamo Bay to sort these types out.

      Another problem is that new companies are formed on the ownership of computing resources. Take Google for instance. They're stealing search revenues which are rightly Microsoft's. That's a lot of money that is going to the wrong shareholders. There is a solution however. Ask everybody that you know to sell their Google shares and to buy into Microsoft instead. That way we will finally get to see what search could have been before that fat lazy greedy lying single-vendor search lock-in search giant stole it all.

      Actions speak louder than words my friends. I, for one, am already eating smaller plates of food. The money I save on my shopping bills will go some way to cover my future computing with the best model around. I'm also learning to drive much less and much more economically so that I can have the basic applications that I need available "on tap".

      Let's hear a big round of applause for Microsoft, because one thing's for sure, they know what the future is about and must be heavily admired for getting on with it.
      • What Inane Nonsense

        How can you patent renting something? Something like this would fall apart in a court room. Sure you can patent or copy write a program but getting a patent to rent software is so far out of the fantasy realm I had to laugh reading this article. How about making programs that do not have so many flaws in them that they are still patching them after 5 or more years.
      • good one

        Well written argument for (I mean mocking) the idea.
  • RE: Metered computing: Another great argument for open source in 2009

    Yeah we did this before. My wife has a greatt tale of submitting a data job, the IT department getting the stats wrong and then double billing to correct their mistake. And, given a lot of the businesses on the net rely on traffic flow through their site, those folks should scream bloody murder! Like, if I'm worrying about how much CPU/OS/Memory amount/time I'm running, I ain't gonna click on those links that let me window shop. Defeats one whole aspect of the net and our anytime, anywhere cultural mind set.
  • RE: Metered computing: Another great argument for open source in 2009

    This should get turned down as it is an "obvious" idea. Probably thought of before and never patented as it is a bad idea.

    Microsoft were probably just trying to patent it to stop someone else trying it - or make sure windows is the OS when someone else does try it. The "Google PC" perhaps?

    Or is this a backdoor way to make sure every smartphone will have windows mobile on it?
  • Libraries and places like hotel lobbies...

    that provide computers for public use may find this attractive. I don't see it for the home or office computer.
    • For kiosks...

      Kiosk computing already exists. But Microsoft's patent goes further and they're looking at actually charging not only for time, but actual resource usage.
  • RE: Metered computing: Another great argument for open source in 2009

    It doesn't really make sense in a business environment either. Businesses need to maximize their investment. If they are providing a computer with a service type arrangement, they have a single cost which remains constant as they aren't directly providing the computer hardware. In comparison, if they buy the hardware directly and then bill their customers for its use, they can recoup more money over time.

    While this sort of arrangement might be convenient for very high powered hardware (or veryu expensive software), the actual patent doesn't seem to target these markets. Rather, it appears to be specific to consumer devices. There are already ways to rent time on high powered computer clusters or to make use of specialty software programs through the cloud. The Amazon services are a very good example of how such a strategy might work. Microsoft's patent doesn't appear to touch any infrastructure related rentals at all.

    All in all, I think it's a <a href="">very stupid idea.</a>
    Rob Oakes
    • Sorry

      Cloud computing (and that sort of thing) was what I was referring to. Not metered PCs. Sorry I wasn't more specific.
  • This may well catch on

    There is absolutely nothing "ridiculous" about this idea. For those who know, this is the way in which mainframe power has been sold for decades.

    Now PC's aren't mainframes, but in term of processing power and operating system complexity they really do come close. For custom-made PCs which include hardware level access control and specifically the ability to exclude FOSS software from running (like e.g. Microsoft's Palladium) PCs like these would even be technically feasible.

    Now whether this idea will be realized all boils down to market acceptance (the distribution channel, the public, perhaps aided by one or two trend-setting organizations like e.g. public libraries, Internet cafes, etc.) and cost-benefit considerations.

    What one should not forget is that Microsoft stands to loose almost its entire business model to FOSS, that it has an enormous amount of cash with which to finance its countermeasures, and that in the current recession anything that allows hardware companies to offer hardware at reduced prices and which takes the up-front cost out of personal computing is likely to be embraced. By said hardware companies *and* the public.

    Besides which, once Microsoft controls both the OS and the underlying hardware, it will be able to offer three very interesting things: absence of viruses, trusted computing, and targeted advertising opportunities.

    Absence of viruses is easy to understand: when *any* piece of software needs to be signed by Microsoft in order to run, there will be no more viruses. They will not be able to run. You will still have macro viruses of course, but that's not the same.

    Secondly, having your PC locked down from the OS down makes it an excellent platform for "trusted computing". Meaning that consumers are no longer at liberty to infringe copyright as they see fit (which means a huge incentive for content providers to target locked-down Microsoft hardware for their content), and that institutions like banks can be assured that anyone logging in from a proprietary system is very unlikely to have malware running. From their point of view it would make sense to endorse such systems.

    Last but not least Microsoft will have total control of your entire PC and hence all the information it needs to see who would be interested to target you with commercials. People routinely swallow internet "ad-ware" pages (like the ones from Cnet news), and have become completely used to a measure of constant ware background noise from commercials (just turn on your TV and count adds for an hour and you'll see what I mean). Therefore ad-ware PC systems ought to be quite close to acceptance already.

    Taken together, in my opinion this makes a compelling case for locked-down Microsoft-only PCs.

    Of course Microsoft's objective is to make money from this exercise, but it will be able to absorb billions in losses for quite a few years to get to that point. And it might feel that it has no other choice.

    I'm afraid that the *only* way to effectively combat this development is to compile accurate cost statistics *and* factor in the cost of migrating away from the hardware and software infrastructure that people who buy into subsidized PCs set themselves up for. You see, in the long term Microsoft can charge a fixed proportion (say 50%) of the migration costs for their proprietary offerings, in exactly the same way it is doing now for Microsoft Office.
    • If by "interesting", you mean "terrifying"...

      Some of the fun things I would do before giving Microsoft total control over my PC include setting it on fire, dropping it off a bridge, and going back to the Commodore 64.

      If Microsoft is threatened (which I doubt),.it's because they don't seem to be as interested in providing better products and services as in consolidating their power. They just keep dreaming up new lockdown schemes, and this is why I am running 100 per cent Linux today. Not because I'm trying to save a few bucks, but because I don't want to live in a world where a single corporate entity controls all the information in the world. It was an article about "Trusted Computing" (it was called Palladium at the time) that started my journey. I control my computer now... and I've never seen a virus.