Microsoft: No Office Subscriptions on Tap?

Microsoft apparently has decided that the world isn't ready for buying Office via subscription.

Microsoft apparently has decided that the world isnt ready for buying Office via subscription.

An Australian Office program manager let the news slip that the company had decided to nix its long-term plan of selling its desktop suite this way, based on customer feedback that found subscriptions a less-than-optimal method for purchasing Office.

Office XP subscribers basically "rented" Office for a specified period of time. Subscribers also received automatic updates to Office for the duration of their contract as part of their licensing terms.

Microsoft launched the Office subscription program as a pilot in Australia, Brazil and New Zealand in May of 2001. The Professional and Small Business packages were the only Office XP packages offered on a subscription basis.

If the subscription pilot had been deemed successful, Microsoft was slated to make Office available worldwide on a subscription basis.

Microsoft posted a note on the Microsoft Australia home page confirming it was ceasing the subscription licensing program, effective immediately. Those companies participating in the subscription pilot will receive at no additional charge a replacement copy of Office XP, for which the license will never expire, according to the notice.

Until recently, Microsoft executives had maintained that customers liked the Office subscription option.

In June of this year, however, Office senior vice president Steven Sinofsky hinted that Microsoft was re-evaluating the subscription pilot.

"We have thus tried some pilots around subscriptions, which gives a low cost of entry and you pay for it over time," said Sinofsky in an interview with eWEEK. "Were still in the midst of learning from that as you have to at least go through at least one renewal cycle, which is coming up this summer. We will then be able to better understand what the customer experience was like in the real world, and evaluate whether or not people felt it offered enough value at its pricing terms. So well learn some more over the summer and decide if this is a model we want to expand on and move forward with."

Microsoft was widely expected to make Office available via subscription as of its Office 11 release, which is due in mid-2003. The beta for Office 11 is expected to start within a month or so.

"The (Office XP) End User Subscription pilot was never intended to explore anything but the end user experience with subscription programs as one method of purchasing Office," said Office lead product manager David Jaffe. "Pilot programs are by nature temporary, and the end of the pilot does not imply anything about enterprise-level subscription options or any other current or future options for purchasing Office. That said, we are gathering valuable information from the program that will be used in developing new ways to purchase Office in the future."

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