Microsoft wants everyone to know that they have had 1 million customers sign up for the beta of their Google Docs spoiler, Windows Live Workspace, which was originally offered publicly last December. More importantly, they are telling Mary Jo Foley that it will be out of beta by the end of the year.
Recall that Office Live Workspace is not a Web version of Office but a free add-on for regular Microsoft Office that permits easy Web collaboration and sharing of Office documents thereby undercutting one of the key selling points of Google Docs and the other Web office packages. Oddly though, there is an online word processor at the Office Live Workspace Web site called Web Notes, but it isn’t too useful because you can’t download created documents to your PC or use it to edit PC documents. Why did they bother?
Microsoft has thrown open the doors to their Live Mesh technology preview and anyone in the USA can sign up at www.mesh.com if they have a Windows Live ID. Outside the USA will work too, if you are "willing to change your Windows operating system region and language setting to EN-US."
If you are having trouble keeping track, Live Mesh is Microsoft’s Software+Service data synchronization platform announced in April. Sarah Perez (the first link above) describes what you can do with the current preview:
With Mesh running on your computers, you can simply right-click any folder and choose "Add to Mesh." By doing so, that folder and all the files it contains are synchronized with all of your other computers you’ve added to your personal Mesh. It also syncs those files to the Live Mesh Desktop, which is Mesh’s "cloud" – an online web site you can access from any computer. At the moment, the online storage is limited to 5 GB, but that could change in the future. However, Mesh’s recent update allows you to set folders to sync via peer-to-peer, bypassing Live Desktop. When folders are Mesh-enabled, a small panel appears to the right of the folder in explorer which catalogs any changes to the folder (file adds/moves/deletions) as well as notes and comments left by any of the folder’s members.
Live Mesh also lets you access all your “meshified” computers remotely, so if you have software that is installed only on one PC, you can use Live Mesh to access that computer as interact with it as if you were sitting in front of it.
I would have to observe that Live Mesh is required because Microsoft is inextricably tied to applications running on clients which makes synchronization a necessity to compete with applications running in the cloud, a lesson Microsoft has already acted on with Office Live Workspace. However, since today most folks aren’t using cloud applications anyhow, Live Mesh seems very useful.
Microsoft Equipt offers consumers Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, giving them the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for their personal and school projects; Windows Live OneCare, the all-in-one security and PC management service; Windows Live tools, such as Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Photo Gallery so they can connect and share with people they care about most; and Office Live Workspace, a new service from Microsoft that makes it easy to save documents to a dedicated online Workspace and share them with friends and classmates. Anytime a new version of Office or Windows Live OneCare is released, Microsoft Equipt customers will get the version upgrades as part of their subscriptions.
Microsoft Equipt is $69.99 (U.S.) estimated retail price for a one-year renewable subscription. Each subscription will be good for three home PCs, making Microsoft Equipt ideal for families and individuals with one or several computers.
Microsoft Equipt will be sold in nearly 700 Circuit City stores in the U.S. starting mid-July 2008.
Ignoring the "Live" freebies, a visit to Amazon reveals that you can buy a OneCare subscription (3 licenses) for $21.95 per year leaving $48.04 annually to amortize the $111.49 that Amazon charges for Home and Student 2007 (3 licenses). That works out to a payoff of 2.3 years for buying the software upfront instead of getting an Equipt subscription and you will be able to use it forever. Of course, you won’t get the version upgrades with an upfront purchase, but how many consumers really care about that and if new versions only come every 4-5 years it’s a wash. On the face of it, Equipt isn’t a real consumer savings standout.
I would also observe that the marketing plan apparently isn’t complete since Circuit City could hardly be the exclusive retail source. It will also be interesting see if Microsoft can get Equipt preloaded by OEM’s on new PCs some of which currently ship with Home and Student trial offers. All it really takes is money to get that done.
All in all, while there may be a pony for Microsoft in a consumer software subscription service, Equipt as announced hardly seems to be it.
Today, Microsoft announced a private beta of a subscription service codenamed “Albany” which apparently is intended to reduce the complexity of consumer setup and maintenance of home PCs.
“Albany” is the codename for a new all-in-one subscription service of essential software and services consumers told us were most important to them. We’ve pulled together the productivity tools people need to organize their lives, security to help keep their personal information safe and online services that make it easy for them to keep in touch with friends and family, and folded them all into a single service that also ensures the user’s PC is running the latest security and productivity software.
With just a few clicks, “Albany” subscribers will be able install the whole package, which includes Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, giving them the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for their personal and school projects; Windows Live OneCare to help keep viruses at bay and their computer fast and healthy; and Windows Live Mail, Messenger and Photo Gallery so they can connect and share with others. Albany also installs the Microsoft Office Live Workspace connector on the Microsoft Office toolbar, so users can save documents to their own dedicated online workspace and invite friends and classmates to collaborate and share.
Additionally, with “Albany” consumers get the latest versions of Microsoft Office Home and Student and Windows Live OneCare as they’re released. Combined with ongoing security updates, consumers can have the peace of mind that they have protection from the most recent security threats and that their PC is running at its peak.
It sounds like the load of crapware that comes on a new PC, doesn’t it? And I’m sure that will be the favored marketing method. Buy a new PC and break out your credit card again when you get it home. I also think the provision of the newest versions of Office when and if one arrives during the subscriber’s “lease” is fraught with peril. Particularly if Microsoft does another huge user interface overhaul like they did with Office 2007.
Still, it’s all about the price and if the subscription is cheap enough it might be a good deal for consumers and help stave off free Office competitors like Google Docs. No prices were announced since it is a beta, so we’ll have to defer judgment.
Finally, Mary Jo Foley is apparently the only reporter who asked what happens if a subscriber stops paying. Microsoft says that he’ll have to purchase a full price copy of Office to access his data, but a little thought would suggest that there are other, cheaper alternatives although they may not be apparent to the average consumer.