Microsoft officials have confirmed the presence of a detailed Web survey which resuscitates the idea that the company will move to a subscription pricing model for versions of its next Office suite.
The survey purportedly is a Microsoft "concept piece" describing possible features and pricing models of Microsoft Office .NET, also referred to as Microsoft Office NGO (click here to download the flash movie describing Microsoft Office NGO). Microsoft has asked sites like WindowsPro.net to remove the actual file, a detailed 2-Mbyte Macromedia Flash presentation that describes the new subscription model.
Among the proposals is one that would essentially disable Office after a years time, turning it into an applet that could read and print files authored in Word, Excel, and other components of the Office suite.
Late Tuesday, officials at Microsoft confirmed that they were involved with the leaked presentation, but declined to say whether the company had indeed authored it or for what purpose it was created. The survey itself was unavailable.
In a statement, David Jaffe, Microsofts lead product manager for Office, said the leaked presentation does not necessarily represent the direction that Office will take.
"Microsoft is continually looking for ways to develop and improve its products," Jaffe said. "This presentation is an example of what is used with our focus groups and represents just one part of the in-depth research and development process to determine how to best meet customer needs. The content of the presentation should in no way be interpreted as the next version of Office. We have nothing new to announce at this time."
Taking Office onto the Internet
According to the presentation, Office NGO will likely be tightly integrated with the Internet, with the traditional suite of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Access using the Internet as a sort of networked whiteboard for collaboratively working on and sharing documents. Office NGO apparently is a redundant acronym, as "NGO" stands for "Next-Generation Office".
"All of the Office NGO services are available to you through your MyOffice home page, a secure location on the Internet where you can access information you need such as email, documents, your schedule, and contacts," the narrated presentation reads. "Because MyOffice is available over the Internet, you can get to your information anywhere, anytime."
Office NGO services would include a "MyOffice personal portal; an email account; "calendaring", or scheduling tasks on a shared calendar; notifications and alerts; meeting workspaces; team workspaces with shared storage; and a collection of content—graphics, training files, and other media—to be used by customers. Incidentally, the proposed services would also eliminate the fax machine, by automating the process over the Internet.
Microsoft apparently intends to add the feel of MSN, the companys online network, to its Office suite. Mocked-up screenshots in the presentation highlight "market places," which the presentation says offers "easy access to other Microsoft-related services from other companies". The screenshots identify the proposed design as an "M3 prototype".
Pricing: The return of subscriptions--and crippleware?
The presentation asks users to evaluate three possible pricing models that Office NGO could be offered under, which treats the online services as both a discrete and integrated component of the Office suite, depending upon the scenario.
Under the first model, users would buy the physical Office software as they normally would, and Microsoft would allow them to use the software for as long as they like. To use the Web services, users would not only have to own the physical Office software, but subscribe to an annual Web service subscription.
The second and third choices are a bit more restrictive, in terms of the proposed options available to consumers. Although the presentation leaves several details unexplained, Microsoft is apparently considering selling both the physical Office suite as well as the Web services on a one-year subscription basis, with the debate being whether to leave the online and desktop components as separate or integrated services.
But Microsoft is also apparently considering turning off several components of the Office suite after a years time, based on the new subscription model. "With the subscription version of Office, you get the full functionality of the applications, which continue to work as long as you subscribe to the offering," according to the presentation. "With a subscription version of Office, you receive all upgrades and updates released during your subscription."
After a years time, the subscription model would offer users three options: first, renew the subscription; second, purchase an upgrade to a "traditional" Office or suite for $329, giving up access to the online services in the process; or third, to continue using the Office software to open, view and print Office files. "However, you would no longer be able to create and edit files with the Office NGO suite," the presentation says.
Microsoft officials didnt offer any additional comment on pricing.
However, Microsoft has long coveted a subscription model, which would require users to pay a fee over the life of the software rather than a one-time charge and keep them from switching to alternative products. Subscriptions would also eliminate customer concerns about upgrading, since the software would feed users patches and upgrades automatically.
Microsoft had intended to release Office XP last year with a subscription option, but dropped the plan just weeks before the softwares introduction. However, last May Microsoft added a subscription option to its volume licensing options.
Some users, however, have been irritated by Microsofts licensing model and turned to cheaper alternatives like OpenOffice or the StarOffice derivative created by Sun Microsystems Inc.