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Get Ready for Rent-An-App 179

Baraka writes "Apparently MS is proposing a centralized, top-heavy system for delivering software applications in the future." It's kinda interesting: Web Applications in a way are kinda rent to own, and software licensing is so screwy that you don't really own it anyway. As irritating as it may sound, it would appear that application rental is coming... although not to my computer.
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Get Ready for Rent-An-App

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  • Didn't sun and oracle propose this around 95 and 96 with the NC? Ballmer is an idiot though if he thinks that the majority of the people in this country will pay more than $5 a month for something even like office. I hope AbiSuite will be ready in time to challenge office by then.
  • There are already many companies that just don't
    sell their software, they only rent it. For
    example, the SAS []
    institute sells licenses which always terminate...I don't know that you can buy a license that doesn't terminate.

    Among commercial software, this isn't always SUCH a bad idea, (if you're of the opinion that commercial software is a good idea in the first place) because some products are "cutting edge" and you really wouldn't want to buy the thing because in two years you'd have to buy it again to get some vital functionality.

  • These speech-enabled PDA's will be bought in volume by workers (and companies) in the mid-upper range, as a work-related expense. Such people don't need the kind of multitasking you speak of. Nonetheless, the server could multitask your queries, etc and deliver MP3 music of your choice while you wait.
  • displague wrote:
    Everyone can use and benefit from Free Software. Once there is enough of it, there will not be a need (or desire?) for proprietary software. I believe that this premise is false on its face. Yes, everyone who runs a computer can and should benefit from Free Software, but not everyone wants all the hassles of running a computer. If you make certain changes to Microsoft's plan you get programs that can run on quite limited "information appliances" that are a lot easier to set up and use than computers can be. While that may not be what you want, it's what they want, so someone can make money from it. That appeals to people who don't understand what the big deal behind free software is. I'm not talking about leaving some people out of the equation, I'm talking about offering them something that they need and want and can't currently get, even from free software.

    I also find your assertion that there is no need for proprietary software to be very close to a true statement, but not quite there. While the most popular applications will likely be produced as free software, it is unlikely that all applications that anyone could want would be released as free software. Speaking as someone who writes applications for embedded systems, I doubt that you'll find, say, a freeware microwave oven controller. What would be the point?

  • Businesses and home users will jump on it, because of the illusion of saving money (instead of one big transaction, there are many smaller transactions, hiding the actual cost).

    Kinda brings to mind "Only five payments of $33!
  • Actually, I think there is currently too much emphasis on new features in the commercial software world, so something that makes them less eager to throw in the kitchen sink might be a good thing! I mean, think about some of the upgrade problems you've heard about people having with Microsoft products: user interfaces change, buttons move around, you basically have to learn the idiosyncracies of the new release before you can be productive again. Now imagine that you aren't in control of when that happens! So if software rental happens (unlikely), it would be a feature that enhancements were slow and non-disruptive, and I think that would be a good thing. Bug fixes, on the other hand, would be the biggest benefit.

    The best thing about the free software upgrade processes like Debian is that the user is in control of when it happens, but gets the rest of the benefits that software rental would provide, at no charge. We win again :).


  • I think the real reason why MS is pushing this is because they just don't want to admit that their bloatware is getting to the point where Joe Sixpack can't really administer it anymore. Even if all you have is Office, sooner or later you're going to install something that will blow away some DLL in c:\programs\office\system32\junk\foo\bar\runtime.

    Then, the next time you try to run Word, it'll bluescreen on you. Now, if the stupid thing actually told you that c:\programs\office\system32\junk\foo\bar\runtime\s crewit.dll has been replaced with an incompatible version, then you'd probably be able to fix it, but noooo, we all know what the chances of that are. Instead, you'll call Microsoft's technical support line, pay $90 dollars for the privilege of asking them a question why their software barfs. Then, they'll tell you because you installed an alternative operating system on another partition, Office won't work, and that you'll have to repartition it back as one Windows partition, then reinstall everything. Then, they'll charge your credit card.

    So, instead of fixing their OS, MS way of fixing the mess is to pawn off the responsibility for maintainance of their OS to third parties with extensive technical experience. Of course, they have to subscribe to Microsoft Developers Network, so that they can receive the secret decoder ring which translates the BSOD mess into something that you can work with.

  • by rve ( 4436 )
    I think Ballmer is right in his prediction... Right now, commercial software companies are losing a fortune due to software piracy. In some parts of the world the majority of commercial software is stolen. Rented applications that (partially?) run on a remote site would probably put an end to that situation.
  • Like they'll have a chance to do it, in 10 years at the growth rate of linux they won't be here.

    And I wouldn't bank on everyone having high speed by then either.
  • are all you need for that. You could charge for the Telnet account if you wanted to rent the software. Bill is behind the times.
  • At the end of your list you had a second "OL" tag instead of a "/OL" tag. Try to be more careful next time.

  • Most windows users pay more for software than UNIX users.

    That is like saying black people save money at the store, it's racism on a technical level, which imo is wrong.
  • I have another reason why MS is not thinking straight on this whole Rent-An-App idea. MS Office is, for better or worse, my primary office application suite. On my home system, I've used Word a fair amount. But in the last 3 years, I can count on two hands the number of times I've used Excel, Access, and PowerPoint combined. I NEVER use PowerPoint. Yet MS got money from me for it.

    If they tried Pay-Per-View on me, they'd be WAY, WAY behind. Even further, because if I had to pay as I went, I'd use it even less. And most people use their apps even less than I do. Lots of people insist upon MS Office because that's the suite they have at work, but they hardly use it.

    Sure, MS'd clean up on some power users out there. But MS doesn't make money off power users-- they make their money off Joe User-- and Joe User doesn't even use these apps when they're sitting on his computer. MS would be killing it's cash cow.

    I just don't see it.
  • Sarcasm starts here
    didn't you know that office is one, integrated, package - you can't just rent word, you have to rent office, wether you use excel, access, IE, outlook, or whatever.
    Sarcasm ends here
  • Its here, now. In (paticular areas of) Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick the local telcos via there xDSL internet connections already provide software on demand for a cost.

    Some of its per time, some is per use, some per month. Im not sure of what paticular packages are aviable: even though Im running 'blows on one machine, I dont even as much as have the novell client installed. And Im a fucking CNA :)

    I wonder how microsoft plans on pusing the software down? The would have to get themselves a copy of ZENWorks....

  • Actually, I prefer to think of it as Steve Ballmer catching on rather than Steve Ballmer endowing the idea with viability. Like I said, I don't think Microsoft will be able to pull it off, just that Ballmer has put his finger on a cool trend of the future. This is impressive for Ballmer, as he has shown himself to be pretty (probably deliberately) obtuse in precisely these areas in the past: in Nerds 2.0.1, Ballmer is quoted as saying that the Java Virtual Machine, some variant of which would be essential for rent-an-app style distribution of any kind, is
    like this funny layer that slows Windows down... [Scott McNealy, Sun's CEO] would say it's a breakthrough. I would say it's sort of a return to the dark ages of operating systems when they had no capabilities and they ran terribly slowly. That's what I would say. I think you would get different viewpoints on the level of breakthrough-ness of that piece of Java.
    (that's Nerds 2.0.1, page 338, in case anybody wants to look it up.)

    From that perspective, we have to give Ballmer some credit: it is unusual for people who hold such incredibly irrationally negative opinions about things to go so far in realizing their usefulness. So I will say again, we should not assassinate the idea just because Ballmer said it. Sure, he's not the first to come up with the idea of on-demand programs. Us geeky-types would certainly be able to point to a few innovations that predate Steve's by quite a wide margin (Java being the clearest example I can think of). We also justifiably mistrust Microsoft's motivations in pushing on-demand software, as we probably should. But so what? That doesn't mean it's a bad idea, which is what most people around here seem to be saying.
  • I think they must be trying to appeal to folks who find software expensive. Do any of us have that problem? ...Thought not

    Besides - I don't want Big Brother, or Uncle Bill, snooping in on my data... (or selling for that matter)

    This is the kind of stunt that may have been beneficial 5+ years ago, but today we can afford the computer power, the software (for sure), and the support for the apps we need.

    Marques Johansson
  • Your premises are technically sound (FPGA research has been getting very interesting rescently) but implementing it would be very difficult given the current state of things.

    Windows did not come out of thin air - It was based on many previous ideas - one of the reasons it cannot seem to shake it's DOS roots. Linux is based on UNIX roots.

    Computer technology is an evolutionary field. You can't just say, "okay today we are going to drop everything we have learned and start anew." I agree that KDE and the others are just baby steps, but they are steps that need to be taken.

    What _I_ would like to see is Microsoft's current technologies released into the public domain. The DOJ could force that. Then we could ensure that we can stay caught up (if not pass) with whatever they could throw out there in the future.

    I think the rental approach goes against peoples very nature of possesion. Sharing is one thing, but charging is another.
  • I would love to be able to: "The future of the Internet is not computer-based," said Jay Udani, vice president and founder of the company. "I can access the Net from a Palm Pilot on the road, or a kiosk in the airport, or at a friend's home, and that data is always available. I can move around and have a service that follows me wherever I go in the world." This is way better than the current way of software distribution. And "All upgrades and new features are added automatically, without having to download and install updates," he said. "You never have an out-of-date product." is also much better than downloading upgrades to free software and doing rpm -Uvh package.rpm
  • 3. Even though I continue to rent it, an "automatic upgrade" of the application renders my data unreadable. Since I never owned it in the first place, there's no way to back out to the working version.
  • Oh yeah, that is if you can afford to be online all the time.

    Oh BTW, see how long it takes you to download all the SDKs, if you can find them.

    $2000 != $0, BTW.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    i hate prognosticators. ballmer thinks high speed broadband will be everywhere in a couple of years ... sure, especially with how well the cable co. are dealing with being ISPs. Sounds like a stupid prediction to be basing software distribution chains on. Let's all trot happily off to utopia, where everybody has a 1.5 meg pipe to the internet and, magically, the current network infrastructure supports all that traffic, isps and telcos drop their rates to reasonable levels, and peace reigns on earth. Jesus.
  • Uhh Could you say that again? This time make your sentence structure sound meaningful.
  • Umm large OEMs pay absolutly next to nothing for software. Why do you think so much junk software comes packaged with your computer, it allows them to charge more, while the price stays relativly the same. But in general good hardware is more expensive, and good hardware is really the only thing that runs on linux as crap hardware often won't. But if you buy a computer and you think your getting a real good deal when its a cyrix 233 with a winmodem for only $400 bucks, your being taken for a ride.
  • by battery841 ( 34855 ) on Sunday August 15, 1999 @07:34AM (#1745860) Homepage
    It just won't work. Why not? Does this remind some of us about what we remember of DIVX? You just basically rent it. Don't go telling me that MS won't keep tabs on what we have, what we copy to our hd, etc. I beleve that they're going to watch us. Look where DIVX is now. I beleve rent-an-app is going to lead that same fate soon enough, thank god. Go freeware!
  • I have a feeling, that:
    1. Exactly the oposite will heppen, because Warez promotes software (There was a whole thread about this on the 3D Studio max forum), and when the person decides what software to buy he will buy the one he is fimiliar with, that he got fimiliar thru warez...
    2. Even this scheme have some problems (caching it to the local hard drive, instead of RAM, will allow copying it to removable media, and here you got warez again, as well as hacking the servers, etc)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I was hoping someone would draw the Divx connection; it's right on. M$ wants rentable apps because is the ultimate expression of their blood-from-a-stone business strategy -- I wonder how suddenly often they'll need to update their apps, and add some miniscule "upgrade fee" to your subscription, just like all the sleazy ways the phone company switches your long distance service and signs you up for other crap without telling you. Ballmer and M$ are going to have trouble, because between the open source vibe and the already easy way that many people can rationalize stealing software, they're going to have trouble getting people to sign on. And then there's privacy ... sheesh, does this thing have ANY good points?
  • Computers should be used as tools nothing more, nothing less

    Fortunately, most free software developers do not believe in that narrow-minded cliche: computers are certainly more than just tools -- they can change the world for the better in ways that supercede the notion of just "tools". Otherwise, we would have little to be happy about in the software world.

  • This is basically what Balmer is saying, though I doubt he would cite the originator. What does Microsoft gain by this?

    Obviously a more controlled revenue stream, one which is predictable, and one which continues the advance of the Microsoft monopoly. You don't think you'll be running Windows and MS/Office off an X-Terminal, do you? No, it will be some proprietary protocol, encrypted, and damn difficult to reverse engineer (maybe even illegal to reverse engineer!). But the most important to Microsoft must be the controlled and even revenue stream such a system would foster.

    Microsoft is truly a house of cards right now. Here's a fascinating quote from last weeks Economist article on Share Options, Pg. 18, Aug 7th-13th, which illustrates this point:
    [Regarding overstated profits among high tech firms which hand out share options to their employees as a supposed salary benefit...] For instance, Microsoft, the world's most valuable company, declared a profit of
    $4.5 Billion in 1998; when the cost of options awarded that year, plus the change in value of outstanding options, is deducted, the first made a loss of $18 Billion, according to Smithers.
    Their stock is badly overvalued. They pay their employees poorly, over-work them, illegally hire so many temps that it's turned into a Seattle political scandal, and make up the difference with stock options for their core staff. This suggests that a sell off could be disastrous for the firm and it's employees.... hence it makes sense for Balmer and Gates to both sell off now (which they've been doing) and to look for a new revenue model which can assure higher profits in what will most certainly be a saturated market within ten to fifteen years.

    How should Free software and Open Source proponents fight this? We know how Microsoft is going to fight open protocols on the Net... by "de-commoditizing" (what an aberration of a word, clearly Vinod didn't have a dictionary by his side when he wrote Halloween I and II). And we know that they've already set the desktop standard with Win32/Windows. As long as they maintain control of the Office document standard through adding regular incompatibilities to thwart reverse engineers, they keep Windows installed on enough machines to make interopability with other systems a non-issue for the vast majority of users, and they succeed in keeping Win32 closed enough such that it can never be reverse engineered and re-implemented, they will continue to maintain their monopoly.

    The Justice Department may will the antitrust case, but by the time it's worked its way through the court systems, I'd argue that Win32 will have long since been rendered obsolete.

    This is why I think KDE, GNOME, GNUStep, and the like are a waste of time as far as attempting to take desktop sales away from Microsoft. Free developers may create a good MS-Office replacement like KOffice, or SIAG Office, but it won't ever read MS-Office documents properly just like Corel Office (Even under Windows!), ApplixWare, and StarOffice can't. Nor will a Freenix based desktop ever run exactly the same software (Wine may work well as a porting library, but I'm doubting its long term viability as a Win32 program loader -- MS will just change the underlying core OS enough to make they're new applications incompatible with Wine... it's a never ending game with no winners on the Wine side for this part of their project). Keyboard shortcuts are different, applications are different, they're all incompatible, and the current winner has a stake in maintaining this situation.

    So how do Freenix proponents win in this situation? In my opinion we can't win just be re-inventing the desktop wheel around X (or Berlin, for that matter). I think the Open Source community NEEDS a completely new approach, one which gives it the "killer app" advantage over Windows which will draw users not because of political issues over freedom, but because users will plain want said functionality.

    The next big revolution in user interface design is speech recognition incorporated directly into the systems interface with the computer. Something like what the Oxygen Project at the MIT media Laboratory is doing, with private funding I may add. (See this months Scientific American for a spread on the Oxygen project, the RAW CPU (a programable FPGA system), and their work with handhelds) I don't see any open source stuff from Oxygen... (does anyone know what their stance on Open Source is, and if they're currently accepting funds from Microsoft? If they are, who do you think will keep that codebase???) If you ask me, this is where Balmer wants to go. Everyone gets a handheld which is connected to the net via a radio/infrared networking, the system accepts speech input which is then passed to a server to interpret and resolve the problem, then passed back to the user in speech/video from the handheld. Such a system could be charged per minute, per query, or any of a number of other methods.

    This is what the free software community should be planning to implement. And most of the tools are already available... IBM's Viavoice is a good enough continuous speech recognition system -- though it's not free. It could be used as a module within GNU common lisp, which could then serve as a foundation for a new natural language systems interface based on an "expert system" which understands a simple enough grammer and converts this to UNIX commands, manipulating files, directories, and launching applications. If IBM never releases ViaVoice under an "Open Source" license, the fact that it's a module instead of being tightly integrated into the system means that Freeware developers could rewrite the recognition engine -- maybe with funding from the FSF, a university, or some other organization.

    Such a system would have to be tightly integrated with the desktop interface though, like common KDE and GNOME shortcuts, so that applications could know when to take speech input through their STDIN stream (like dictation) and know when you're attempting to give a command to either the application or the general operating system. Given GNOME's reliance on GUILE as it's "glue scripting language" it seems to me a bit closer toward integrating in a functional language with all its desktop applications, and thus being able to integrate natural language processing across the entire API suite. Just a guess though.

    I think this is where Freenix ought to go, and if it gets there before Microsoft, they will lose marketshare quickly. They may die a horrible death just because their financial situation is so precarious, but that won't do the Freenix community much good; they'll just file Chapter 11 and restructure -- with their monopoly intact. For the Freenix community to take the desktop we must provide an alternative which is easier to use, not just free.

    Of course, I may just be oversimplifying a very complex problem... Please feel free to resolve any problems of ignorance you may have noticed! :-)

  • Thank you for your comment. I don't know of a PARC project to build a speech enabled desktop, but I can't imaging Microsoft lacking at least one such lab. Speech is so obviously the next step that MS would have to be completely blind to underfund this kind of research, especially given their large research expenditures.
    In the long run, you are right about the pointlessness of duplicating the Windows desktop. In the short term though, people need to be able to transfer their work to a new system and KOffice et al will allow people to make the transition a little easier. It unlocks them from Windows and gives them choices.
    I'm not suggesting that KDE, GNOME, or GNUStep are irrelevant or unnecessary, just that alone these desktops won't provide enough new functionality to pull users from Windows; ease of ubiquity being Microsoft's primary advantage.

    But they do create a necessary free foundation which was lacking previously -- I never much cared for CDE.
    I think that more R&D needs to be done in general. Everything right now seems locked into the monolithic PC/Windows experience. Hardware manufacturers have no margins so most are not willing to explore new territories. The "new" hardware idea of the iMac was mearly an update of the original mac and hardly a trailblazing endevor. Ultimately it is a stupid idea since one of the few things easily reused when a PC is replace is the monitor.
    PC hardware needs an update, I agree. Though I think that many of our hardware complaints are really expressions of frustration over what limited functionality current computers present. They're big, clunky, consume large amounts of electricity and thus expel noticeable heat, use moving/spinning parts at high speed, and they're still just single execution unit per cycle "Turing machines." Oh well. UltraSparc desktops really aren't physically that much different from Mac's and PC's. Nor are any other Workstation vendor's good much different beyond CPU, software, and name. The reason we still use clunky desktops now isn't because of dumb hardware manufacturers, but reasonable design given current hardware constraints.

    I think we're going to have to continue to work with desktop based solutions for at least another ten years. By then maybe a general radio IP network infrastructure could be in place, along with those smaller and faster CPU advances Moore's law predicts, justifying a general purpose speech enabled PDA in the open market. This won't happen overnight.

    So, while developing this technology may take a good decade, we should expect Microsoft to produce some kind broken speech enabled version of desktop Windows as soon as they can; maybe within one or two release cycles. They would be idiots to let Dragon Systems, IBM ViaVoice, and all those other third party speech toolkits to take over the market... when have you ever seen Microsoft do that??? It's already a viable business, Microsoft is there.

    The Freenix community has a few advantages: IBM is currently giving out ViaVoice -- for now anyway, we have explosive growth going on with the desktop API -- meaning that change is more readily accepted by the current userbase, and we have several good Common LISP and Scheme interpreters -- with many skilled programmers. Given that GNOME already supports GUILE, updating a Common LISP variant to support the GNOME and GTK API's, along with integrating ViaVoice support, isn't impossible! And it's an important step towards making a usable "expert system" which understands enough to convert simple statements like "Move file1 to directory2" and "find all files containing the word 'foo'" into UNIX commands dynamically.

    I think Open Source desktop systems like GNOME and KDE ought to be thinking along these lines now, because if speech is left unnoticed by the Freenix desktop developers, the UNIX community might miss a critical computer science juncture which will leave it behind Windows!

  • Anti-MS people who are jealous of Bill and his millions.

    And pro-MS people who think Bill deserves all the money they've given him.

  • Heres a intresting scenario, MS makes ALL Apps, OS's and the rest availble to rent, buying is no longer a option, no those that refuse to ever upgrade (and I'm sure MS will find a way to make rented s/ware that only works over the net or something dogdy)like those that use win 3.1 still
    well MS loses money here, but if they pay rent for the future stuff but don't upgrade they stilll need to pay the rent.

    I seem to remember a law in the US being paraded I don't now if it was passed but it was for the remote disableing of software...not a nice combo really :(
  • I'm currently developing an enterprise 'rent-an-app' product, and I think the model makes sense for various reasons:
    • It better matches the cost of making and supporting software. Buying a shrink-wrapped app lets you pay for the (relatively cheap) creation of the software, while renting software smears out your money over the (relatively expensive) maintenance period. It will keep your software supplier honest, otherwise you go shop somewhere else.
    • It better matches existing business models, like with cars - you don't need to maintain your own car, you pay someone else to do this. The same should go for the computer in your house. However, a PC configuration is too complex so we off-load the complexity to another site. You buy a PC and rent the functionality as services (really, who cares about software?).
    • Not needing Gigs of RAM and drivespace to store stupid binaries also makes your computer cheaper or lets you spend your money on things that count, like 3D accellerators, surround sound cards, and that 18" TFT screen.
    • Coupled with data vaulting (storing your data securily at, say, your bank) it provides for full location independence. I'd love to sit behind a screen anywhere on the world and be able to log on to the very same environment I use at home, or at the office.
    • Be fair: playing sysadmin (installing software, making backups) sucks. I'd be happy if a trusted party could take this off my hands.
    It could also kill Microsoft's current policy of creating junkware: it becomes extremely easy to test alternative applications (just click somewhere and it starts up)...

  • This could potentially be a step further than "Can we get them to rent instead of steal?" ...

    Microsoft has the big OEM market by the balls to the extent that they could force them to ship Windows with a bunch of "Windows Installer" hooks for Office tied into the OS. (For those who haven't seen it, the Windows Installer has a way of registring a program icon *before* the program has been installed. Lanuching the icon brings up the installer/credit card entry form.)

    Then, not only does every version of Windows carry a heavy incentive for users to buy into MS Office, it could actually be used to prevent unauthorized MS Office installations. Pop-in the Office CD, and have your CD-key checked automagically checked against the MS database. Defeatable? Probably for a knowedgable person. Scary enough to get users to rent the applications? More likely.

    (The backlash over disk copy protection in the 80s scared Lotus and WordPerfect straight. It's odd that Microsoft would think that Internet copy protection could actually be reliable enough to not piss their customers off.

    Furthermore, if those greedy bastards aren't happy with their P/E ratio now, I don't know what will satisfy them. Help me Government!)

  • Well, to be fair, you had Andresson and others running around saying that Netscape 3 and Java 1.0 makes the OS iiirrrrrelevant, when if reality what they had was a POS and we still are years away from a distributed, secure environment. It's only natural for a nailhead like Ballmer to look at the 1998 state of Java and dismiss it because it had little business use for Microsoft.
  • This is nothing new. Everyone should remember that big software players like Microsoft, and Oracle have been pushing in this direction for years. Oracle now has the distribution system in place to allow online retailers to push Oracle software down to online purchasers. MS's upcoming OS is supposed to push full clients (OS, apps, user files...).
  • i see so many problems with the proposed idea to charge rent for software, that i have no worry about its failure. but there may be a solution with a complete model change.

    1. infrequently used programs: i install a word processor and spreadsheet for once a year usage: when a friend needs something typed, or when i calculate my Foolish 4 portfolio. essentially they serve as security to handle any emergency situations where i really need those apps. and so i use the free StarOffice. any type of rental plan would have to charge per use to be fair. but pschologically, a per usage charge would feel horrible, especially if you frequently use the program. similar to the effect of high gas prices on driving. not to mention that it is hard to estimate usage of software.

    2. frequently used programs: the operating system, web browser, mp3 player, email client, compression program. most of our frequently used apps use open standards, permitting easy entry into the market. it would be hard to charge for usage of those apps, especially with the poor quality that permeates the commercial software industry. too many free clients would pop-up if someone tried to charge rent. and imagine all the apps competing for rights to the file extension. the war would make the Netscape/IExplorer battle look friendly, because now money is involved. companies would actually have an incentive to modify the registry, install bad dll's, and such not to render your computer unusable for the competitor's software. and i can see a company like Microsoft charging a one-time fee for the first usage of your software. so you install IExplorer, and it installs a bunch of secondary programs behind your back, like an mp3 player. the next time you play an mp3, rather than loading Winamp, the file extension invokes MS's player and hammers you with the one-time low installation fee of only $25.

    3. a popular argument for software rental is that the rental includes free upgrades. but that argument only works for buggy software, vaporware, and the US market where materialism demands that you have the latest and greatest. after Windows removed the printer drivers from the word processor, Word Perfect saw that it had no reason for upgrades to its word processor. a high quality app will serve its purpose for many years. how many times have you upgraded vi? before Linux, i always used Qedit, and never upgraded. xterm upgrades? maybe an occasional security patch.

    how it could work: applications are offered for free, but they display advertising on the screen, similar to this very webpage, requiring a live I-net connection. and to increase revenue, charge an install fee. otherwise i don't see it generating more revenue than software sales.


    sorry for double submissions, i received an error while submitting
  • There was a booming software rental trade here in Canada (mostly games, natch) before NAFTA (Not A Free Trade Agreement) was signed.
    IIRC, software rental under NAFTA is illegal.

    Maybe this applies only to third parties, since MS could claim that Windoze user are really only renting their OS now.

    Ballmer and his ilk are only interested in one thing: growing Microsoft income to offset their own predictions of declining revenue.

    Look at the time line: 10 years??!!
    Do you honestly believe anybody in the computer industry that makes 10 year predictions?
  • ProEngineer and most expensive applications running on IRIX do this..they use nodelocked flexlm license servers and expire..the problem is that if a license server goes down youre screwed..if the license expires youre screwed. i've seen this happen so often its not funny and throughly pisses me off.
  • There are, in fact, already lots of application rentals. They come in two forms: you rent an application and install it locally (used with high-end business apps), or you pay a monthly fee for using applications on a remotely hosted system (used both with business apps and increasingly Internet-based services).

    While that may sound horrible to us technical folks, actually for many applications it could be quite nice: you don't have to install or maintain the software, and it becomes accessible from anywhere. For mail, text editing, spreadsheets, printing and snailmail, FAX, etc., that sounds like a real winner. With a suitable platform (UNIX, Java), you might even be able to rent compute cycles for general purpose computing, again, without the headaches of maintaining your own system.

    It will be interesting to see how Microsoft believes this will work with their software and what kind of business advantage they have in that area. Right now, the only credible client plaform for delivering such services would seem to be Java, since ActiveX is too machine dependent and not secure or safe enough.

  • I think this will catch on for some applications because it offeres significant advantages:

    One example would be small studios that produce video effects. Under this rental system, they won't need the money up front to set up a 64 machine SGI render farm. They simply pay for the render time they use, yet get speedy results as though they had tremendous computing power on site. They won't need to manage installing, upgrading, etc... And users will watch the software slowly evolve, rather than having to wait for 2.0 for the one feature they need, only to find out the interface has changed.

    Plus, its easier for software developers to debug and test. Not to mention the fact that it cuts down on piracy, which could bring the costs down for paying customers.

    Finally, it ups the competition level since it makes it much easier for companies to try out and switch to other software packages. They no longer need to make a large, upfront investment in a certain package.

    So, for buisness oriented software, I think its a great idea. For home users, however, free software will become an even better option. Of the software I actually pay for, I wouldn't hesitate to erase it all if I had to pay a monthly charge.
  • Linux-Mandrake has this also, click the Update icon and it checks a list of mirrors for Mandrake updates that you dont have. Downloads the rpm files and then auto installs them in the background for you.

    No hassle, no mess, no having to remember cli commands for the newbies :)
  • I also wonder if this will be the means Microsoft will use to receive annual licensing fees. It was brought up in the trial and even though MS denies they decided to use it, this prognostication combined with UCTIA and MS's investment in broadband certainly lends an air of paranoia to the possibility.

    It's Mr. B's references to up-to-date software that really pushes it home for me. Maybe its the differences in the latest Win98 updates and MS's recent refusal to allow updates/fixes in other media that makes me think they want to do this rental approach to their apps. It certainly allows for better market study.

    And America is tops in this kind of approach. Do you know what credit card debt is in the US?

  • Regardless of whether or not it's a Free-Software system, or a leased system from Microsoft, there is the big issue of automatic upgrades.


    I need to get the Monthly status report out, I log in, and go to update the report. Oops, it decided to upgrade itself last night, and there seems to be a major bug in a feature I use, or they changed how the feature worked. Now I have a stressful time figuring out how to get the report done.

    Given the horrible reliability of MS apps, I really wouldn't want auto-upgrades. I had Win98, and the SmartUpdate was a disaster on several occasions. (As a warning, never try to update more than one piece of software at a time with SmartUpdate).

    -- Keith Moore
  • Lotus & Wordperfect? IIRC, the backlash started on the Mac side of things. It had been brewing a while, and then Macworld urged its readers to flatly boycott any copy protected software, and "key disk" software. It spread rapidly, and the manufacturors backed down in a matter of months.
  • I wonder. I was thinking about the implications of speech recognition quite a while ago and my personal conclusion was that it's way overrated. In many of nowaday's office situations, I'd deem it highly impractical. Imagine your typical, large office with let's say some 40 or 50 cubicles. Now imagine all of these people trying to get their respective computers to do what they want by voice. Can you imagine the noise level in that office? The amount of chattering? Horrifying!
    Background noise in a large office is bad enough as is without everybody talking to their computers as well, thank you very much...

  • Yep. That's always been my standard illustration of why voice interfaces in the workplace aren't going to happen.

    But there's another observation, made by a cow-orker, which I rather like:

    A lot of people think voice recognition is cool because then life will be more like Star Trek. You know - whenever someone has a question, they say, "Computer, what's the last digit of pi?" and the computer speaks the answer.

    But what happens when someone has actual work to do? They use a console.

  • Not that I'm advocating piracy, but this concept of renting software for a limited time period is begging for more of it: There is already a utility to get around the timebomb in some Win3.1 apps without the bother of changing your system date, and there's probably one I don't know about for Win9*/NT* as well. If not, you can bet there soon will be. So then what? Dongles, or software like one of my clients HAD, that would only install and uninstall TWICE before it declared itself dead? (Oh, we bought an upgrade. From another company.)

    And what's next? Hardware getting into the act? Imagine video cards that stop working if you don't pay the monthly fee. Not out of the question by any means.

    If this were coming in at the beginning of the boom in home computers, it likely would go thru without a blink from the market, since most people didn't know any better than to accept whatever computer and software the dealer handed them, at whatever price and policy the dealer offered. By now the home market is sufficiently saturated that most people are used to simply buying the stuff and being done with it, at least until they need an upgrade. They aren't going to take kindly to "renting". Corporations who thought NT was a good deal may feel otherwise, tho.. :/
  • As I've said before on slashdot, intel put the cpu ID opcode into the Pentium III at the request of micro~1.oft. The ID function built into each CPU will be one of the main components of the software rental business.

    Software rental will require a scheme where a user can contact a rental server, enter their CPU and credit card details, then store this information locally so the software can check for current rental authorization before running.

    The software can be pre-installed on the machine (the current micro~1.oft model of bundling all its software with the OS), or delivered as a try-before-buy demo CD, or DLable from the internet or ASP, use your imagination.

    The user then has to enter into an agreement with the owner of the software to rent/license the software for a certain amount of time. The ASP then returns a certificate (strong encryption is their friend here!) which unlocks the software for a certain amount of time/usage (1 year or 3000 saves, whichever comes first).

    The software then uses a cryptographically secure hash to compare the CPU ID, authenticated timecode (from an internet source), a local cert accompanying the software image, and the licensing cert sent by the ASP.

    As others have pointed out here, the UCITA is another key component to protect software rental schemes like timebombing and limited usage, and to prevent reverse engineering with criminal penalties. Where the Sun/Oracle network computer model didn't make sense 2 years ago, now with the UCITA it starts to make a lot more sense.

    I have to deal with timebombed rental/demo software all the time, it is a real pain in the ass. I've got clients who accidently base some key part of their NOC on some timebombed code, which blew up earlier this year. The outages were bad enough some of them made the news, but PR people were able to blame glitches or lightning storms. This rental model is going to fail in the long term, and the medium term peak will not be the trillion $$$ revenue stream some are predicting, but it might reach 10%-20% of the total software market before collapsing.

    my .02 euros
    the AC
  • l less.

    Computers as tools?

    Try telling an enthusiast that public transportation obsoletes biking or that Bally's obsoletes hiking or that the local genetically altered (just different not better) obsoletes hunting...

    If you get shot on account of the last one, I'll take full responsibility gladly and proudly. Fucking Luddite.

  • Sun's confidential files are postscript and SGML NOT doc's. In fact only people who need to do presentations or compatibility with networking are allowed to use MS products in the work place at Sun, even then they are severly restricted to what they can use.
    I would guess that Sun will be moving over to StarOffice soon though.
  • A far more likely scenario will be advertisements embedded in a web based app. You will access some server providing the application you will, manipulate some data and the the results will probably be sent to a storage server. ( This is the method that my group is currently using for applications.) This allows users to access their data ( probably with ssl or ssh ) from anywhere the might be located. Currently we are collaborating with users from around the US with interest show up from around the world.
    This will mean that anyone will be capable of reading a document no matter what platform it was produced on.
  • There's a very large difference...

    Whereas you probably won't be finding, say, any need to keep around the latest drek on VHS, you *will* quite possibly need to keep around application software in the long-term.

    Think data files. Think proprietary data file formats. Think about the existing investment in training, and how ugly it'd be to retrain employees to use a different package, or what happens if you communicate with somebody with an older version that can't read the current file format of the day.

    There's a lot of required continuity. Even nominally compatible upgrades can break that, if behavioral quirks change or support is dropped (which happens...).

    Which is more important: guaranteeing that you can obtain the latest "Zelda" release, or knowing that you won't be held hostage with unreadable data if the application subscription/rental rate climbs up, or if features you need get obsoleted (think: changing APIs, ala Java's deprecation, etc)? App software is VERY different.
  • by jguthrie ( 57467 ) on Sunday August 15, 1999 @11:10AM (#1745903)
    displague said:
    I think they must be trying to appeal to folks who find software expensive. Do any of us have that problem? ...Thought not
    Actually, they're trying to maintain their stranglehold on a customer base that is full of people who are beginning to notice that they are being forced to pay to upgrade their software every couple of years. (All software vendors force their customers to do this in order to maintain the revenue stream which keeps stock prices high.) Microsoft's target audience in this scheme surely isn't the "free software community," (not that there necessarily is such a thing---a debate I am unwilling to enter into here,) because we all caught on to that fact some time ago.

    In actual fact, I think "renting" software is a good idea for the great masses of people who are either unable or unwilling to be their own computer experts. For my part, I expect the days of the computer as a mass-market item are numbered. Leasing software and other data services from a provider can conceivably result in higher quality and lower cost because the provider won't have to stuff feature after feature into the software (to justify charging for the upgrade) and will be able to release upgrades as incremental changes rather than as an all-or-nothing shot which has to be mind-bogglingly complex in order to handle all potential cases.

    displague also said:

    Besides - I don't want Big Brother, or Uncle Bill, snooping in on my data... (or selling for that matter)
    Well, there certainly is a trust issue. However, there are ways of boosting the customers' trust in the company. The business plan I have floating around for a business similar to this deals with the trust factor directly. It's all in the marketing and should be easy to sell to the vast majority of computer users.

    As a matter of fact, I think that the only question about the success of this scheme is not whether or not someone can do it, but whether or not Microsoft can stop writing the bloatware they need to write to make money "selling" software and focus on delivering high-quality stable software that will produce the most profits when you "rent" software. The "million monkey" approach is definitely the wrong way to write software to rent. My own opinion is that Microsoft doesn't write bloatware because that's what's needed to succeed in the current market. Instead, I think Microsoft has succeeded in the current market because they happen to be good at writing bloatware which is what it takes to succeed.

    The times, they are a changin', and to throughly mix a metaphor, can the 500-pound-gorilla change its spots? Time will tell, but I doubt it.

  • you forget the most simple way. per month. No hassles with figuring who used it when or where.

    Yes, but what about running a program on your local box, possibly multiple times, and displaying it remotely for other users. Do you still only get charged once per month a fixed fee? I know this capability is severely lacking in Windows now (BASE Windows, no add-on crap), but I think it will catch on in the future.
  • My chief worries would be:

    * The sheer *power* it gives the distributor. Businesses *need* to know that they can access their data; if licensing fees go up, or file format support is dropped, or any conditions change, then that security is gone. Ditto home users; imagine the fee for, oh, "Quicken" and related apps right before mid-April (Apr 15 is when US federal income tax filings are due, non-USers).

    * It obviously ties in with UCITA. Renting implies a way to disable, perhaps by forcing some client-server model (code stays on proprietary service provider).

    * Security. It'd better be darn safe, lest somebody figure out how to exploit any upgrading system.
  • Actually, under pressure from the SPA, the U.S. Congress has already banned renting software. However, despite the lobbying of Nintendo, video games are specifically excluded.

    Before that, there actually were some retailers trying to make a go of renting software, but it didn't appear to be working too well. Scared the heck out of the software companies, though.

  • Well isn't this just a componentless version? Tim
  • How about per CPU usage for the program? You then would get a certain "usage" charge when you start up a program just to load it and basically no charge unless you are actively using the program. Plus, you could act as a host to multiple users of a program and only get one "bill." Even though I think the idea is stupid and no one in their right mind would go for this that's the best possibility I can think of. (O.K., maybe if the fee was like $5 per month for the OS, Office suite, games, etc. But I doubt that model would work for Microsoft's need for revenue).
  • There's a problem with Microsoft's theory of a rent-to-own software world: security. The only reason that companies can continue to keep software on the shelves of stores today is that people don't have to bandwidth for mass Warez, like we do with mp3z. An SDMI-like software-based solution for Windows, or even Office, could not work and would eventually be cracked, as all software protection mechanisms have been in the past.

    Check out a little company called Wave Systems [] (Nasdaq: WAVX). Note, I have no affiliation with Wave, but I used to work for a company that was acquired by them. The idea is to start by endowing computers with a secure computing environment on the motherboard, giving the computers an easy way to distrubute "rent-to-own" software. That is, you could get a CD with 500 games on it, but you only pay for the ones that you play. If you play it for 5 minutes and decide that it sucks, you pay twenty cents. However, if you play it for 4 hours a day for the next month, you pay the regular $29.95.

    Obviously, this paradigm could be extended to a lot of different areas. For example, if it were easy to have a customer pay through the secure local environment via SET with a smart card, a content provider such as ZDNet could conceivably charge a nominal fee for each viewed article (a penny, or the like). Since Web companies are still losing a lot of money, Wave thinks that this will be an attractive solution to financial woes.

    However, I think that this model is inherently flawed. As information becomes easier to disseminate and the cost of distribution approaches zero, control is virtually impossible. SDMI will fail. Software protection has failed, since Warez sites are plentiful. Paying for content seems absurd, when it's as easy as copying and pasting the text. A good business model does not reside on charging consumers for something which they once got for free.

    The problems herein -- of universal accessibility and unlimited bandwidth -- could be harbingers of the Open Source movement. Linux and other open source project may survive, in part, because Microsoft won't be able to make money as their power to control the distribution of their OS becomes nill. The existence of free publications on the Web has basically destroyed the idea of charging to read atricles online.

    In any case, software metering and / or secure computing environments on a host are interesting and worthy topics which could spawn many applications. I think, in the end, SET and secure logins -- applications which facilitate security and the exchange of information -- will win out over functionality that impedes the consumer, such as operating systems that don't work very well and cost a lot of money.

  • I'm always amazed at the number of people that back into a corner, like a scared pup with its tail between its legs, chanting the, "it's going to happen sooner or later" mantra. Such has been the case with the issue of privacy, and now I see evidence that it's happening with this new software rental scheme. The truth is that it will only happen if we (consumers) let it happen. The whole snafu with DIVX is a great indication that consumers still have some sense when it comes to adopting new technology. Let's hope it sticks arount long enough to see MS (and others) write this off as a costly, yet failed, experiment.
  • This is not going to really happen. Look at how the NC pretty much failed and how Oracle's predictions of a world of NCs have not turned out at all, even though they have been predicting for the last five years. Remember that people like to own things, not rent things. Corporations won't like such things because of security reasons, higher costs, lack of control, etc. If Micro$oft takes this approach, they'll just lose a *lot* of money and end up helping Open Source Software. Where are people going to get C/C++ compilers for FPGA machines? They won't. Even if Micro$oft can provide office and M$IE for such a machine, where will people get software that Micro$oft doesn't produce if Micro$oft makes all the software? People won't like it when they can't play Quake n (whatever roman numeral you feel is high enough) on their new machine. People won't like it when you can't listen to MP3s while working in 3 documents at once. A little handheld device with an FPGA chip won't be able to do multitasking very well, unless the FPGA chip has some built in mechanism for network swapping. Where will people put the porn that they look at while wanking? This little handheld machine approach won't work in the real world.
  • *plonk*

    1. Only if they buy it. I doubt that happens often, particularly in areas where one can buy software with even cloned manuals and boxes, for a mere fraction of the standard price (because only duplication costs and perhaps bribing the local officials are involved, not development or advertising). It's a fairly flimsy excuse.

    2. You presumably aren't aware of the client-server model. Bzzzzzzzzzzt, next.
  • Remote control and disabling of software won't work in the real world because people will just put up programs that will block such remote control or disabling packets, or will simulate their existance if necessary. You'd probably see ISPs start selling blocking services to disable such remote control and/or disabling.
  • "All upgrades and new features are added automatically, without having to download and install updates," he said. Could you possibly imagine anything more annoying then software that updates itself with out telling you? And, with Microsoft doing it, can you imagine the security holes? In side a month trojans would download and install themselves on every MS OS connected to the net.
  • The move is interesting. But it is late. Let's see one thing. OpenSource came into the high arena 1,5 year ago not because it is right. It is needed. No one, even a corporation like M$, is able to afford the exponential spending that software development is going into. Yes, most still are making profit under the old proprietary schemes. But this profit is quickly becoming nil. In some cases it had passed the red line long ago. But it is hard to forget old traditions... The idea of renting software is not new. At least M$ has been showing will to implement such schemes since 97. And in Internet one can see "canned software" schemes laying around. However "canned software" possesses two failures. First it considers that everyone will use a restricted environment of applications. Second that creating a financial scheme that constantly "feeds" the developer, one will overcome the shortcomings of present proprietary schemes. The first point may look controversial. However it is a must for such schemes. No matter how many resources the developer possesses, he can't afford to answer to everyone's demands. So users necessities will just be hijacked in an "Office-like" world. "Wanna have a 3D interface? Maybe two-three versions from now." The second point is the main failure of this scheme. It is based on the idea that "money solves everything". If there is a key example that contradicts this assumption then look at M$ itself. They have lots of money. However they are unable to hold the current. "Canned software" is doomed to failure. It may give a new breath to the proprietary extremistes. However it will be a temporary measure. Much like Internet gave a hand to many, by allowing a cheap and effective distribution of upgrades and bugfixes in its early times. Besides it can be simply an illusion of security. In fact the idea of renting software came too late. Some years ago it may have found a place in this world. Now it will have to fight the OpenSource ruler.

  • Could you possibly imagine anything more annoying then software
    that updates itself with out telling you?

    As the matter of fact, what Ballmer is talking about is already.... a fact. Eg, M$ SQL Server 7 License agreement states that 'Software' remains the property of M$ and users are granted to use it but they don't own it. However, you still need to patch it manually :) Horrible dictu what will happen when M$ will patch their own stuff.

    What are we supposed to rent? Small utilities? C'mon, they are free. Large professional packages? Professionals already got them. If someone has no- probably he's not that much professional. Again, imagine dloading 3D Studio....

    I have always been in doubts about M$ abilities to produce decent software. But what happens makes me thinking even worse about their marketing talents.

  • Excellent point Dude!
  • by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Sunday August 15, 1999 @12:56PM (#1745920) Homepage
    Okay, let's review what MS has already done to get the majority of computer users by the short and curlies.

    • Used an OS monopoly to monopolize business applications
    • Colluded with Intel. Most likely, the reason is that MS promised to only write OSes for Intel chips (was there ever a serious effort for Alphas & PPCs? Didn't think so), and in return Intel doesn't compete with MS, since they're one of the few people that have a similar chokehold
    • Set up proprietary and ever changing document formats to help out their business app monopoly
    • Working on setting up UCITA, to prevent people from reverse engineering their products, even if only for compatibility reasons

    And now we get an announcement that they're considering application rentals. This does not come as a suprise to me. In December, I started to put together the pieces, based on some comments made by Ballmer and Gates, and determined that MS was planning to move towards a subscription model. That is, you get Office2002, but it expires in 2003, and you are forced to buy the new one. This would also help drive sales of the OS and of new boxes, due to the aforementioned document issue.

    The other really interesting thing I noticed though, was that they were working on a system by which Office would not be a set of applications at all. Instead, they would be subscription-model web sites. Login to, write a document, and it's saved as a web page somewhere on the site. You can email it to people through a connection to hotmail. Access it from any place. And pay through the nose, since there won't be any other choice.

    Now, that's the next step. First they need to get people to become used to the subscription model and wait a bit for bandwidth to improve.

    There is a great side effect too. Since everyone already uses Windows & Office, and they'll have prevented anyone from keeping old copies of the software around (by expiring it & by preventing them from reading new files), everyone, even MS's competetors will be stuck with the web version of Office. Now who here believes that confidential files by Oracle, Sun, Apple, AOL, or whomever, will stay that way while on MS's web site?

  • Well I don't have personal experience with what each of those companies uses internally, but most large businesses in my experience, use Office pretty extensively. YMMV.

    For various computer manufacturers, I'd expect that they would normally use their own hardware, and in Sun's case, this would make using Office pretty hard. However, software houses and businesses in areas MS is still moving into (telecommunications, journalism, etc.) are likely to use Office.

    That's interesting about Sun, though.
  • "Before" being defined as 20 years or so. Think back to the era of mainframes on college campuses, where you has a certain amount of CPU time in your account. Just about all the apps were on the mainframe server, your terminal just displayed the output.

    So, micros~1's proposal is different how? You pay them for X amount of CPU time to run your app on their server (the only viable way to keep us from pirating the rented copy, otherwise crackers will steal the downloaded code from RAM or HD and deactivate or spoof the self-destruct/reporting system), and probably for X megs of data storage space. Companies start selling systems with only the minimum power needed to contact the server, and we're back to the centralized-server-and-dumb-terminal era (except this time around you can't trust the people who run that centralized server ;)

    And what happens when NT 6.66 (or whatever the micros~1 server runs) crashes, or there's a "router problem" or "bad weather"? All of a sudden, all productivity halts...

    For further information, man bofh


  • Plus figuring out how to remove read-privs for the software itself, or guaranteeing that it can only be run on the server. In addition, you'll need to work out where and how (privileges, ownership) to store the data. Most apps probably aren't written this way, with the exception of those that use licensing servers.
  • It's not only Microsoft, IBM has been looking into this as well. Sun is already starting to implement this, Jini. It seems that this is the future, although this news is old, they have been planning on using distributed computing for at least a year.

    As for renting software, there is a great little store in College Station, TX, called Floppy Joe's.

    They allow you to "lease" software, kind of like try before you buy. And that store has been there for over 5 years. Before most applications were released on CDs, you got a handful of floppies, and if you liked the program, keep it, they'll bill your credit card.

    I can see stores like that popping up all across the country, that's a great idea.

    But as for server side apps, blame it on the net. But the net is also a reason against this. Any one that is still using a standard phone line modem is going to be screwed. That is the majority of people. If Microsoft, or any other company is going to do this in full swing, they should take their billions of dollars and invest in dropping an oc3 line to everyone's house. They foot the bill for that, then maybe they can pull it off.

    If you couldn't see Microsoft heading this way, you must be blind. IE, further integration each release. Windows Update.

    Remember, the computer industry is not a consumer driven market. People make software, if you don't like their products, tough. They don't let you choose which features of which applications you want on "your" PC. It's all or nothing. You could buy a competing application, but you have to have the "Industry Standard".

    The really sad part, most of this "Cutting-Edge" technology is still based off of stuff that is older than I am.

    Even hardware is still lacking it's true potential, all for backwards compatibility. Look at SCSI. Sure hardware updates come around, but only once in a blue moon.

    With today's technology, it's a shame to see hard drives that have spinning platters of metal, or plastic.

    Intel, 3-Com, Adaptec, Nvidia, Sun, Microsoft, RedHat, Apple, SGI, and every other "major" player should all get together and re-design the computer from scratch. Including programming languages. That is where the millions of research dollars they spend should go. Forget backwards compatibility.

    These companies can still make their products, and divide the research in to their areas of expertise.

    Just my opinion on companies that could be smarter if they forgot about money for 3 hours.
  • nothing less.

    Disclaimer: This comment is written in such a way as to repeat it'sself and to require the point of the comment to be decyphered... sorry.

    And so are computers. Computers and Space Ships share a whole bunch of common properties, most importantly for the point I'm trying to make is that they're both completely different from any other tool we've ever had, and require different treatment than any other tool we've ever had.

    NASA's Space Shuttle is closer to a bicycle than my Laptop is to a toaster. The laptop requires more effort to learn how to use than the toaster, and that's how it should be.

    Remember, the catigory "Tools" covers everything from a pointy stick that you dig vegitable roots out of the ground with to a SGI O2. The O2 requires different treatment from the stick, yes?

  • The specific law is the Computer Software Rental Amendments Act if 1990, 17 USC Sec. 109. I quote:
    (b)(1)(A) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a), unless authorized by the owners of copyright in the sound recording or the owner of copyright in a computer program (including any tape, disk, or other medium embodying such program), and in the case of a sound recording in the musical works embodied therein, neither the owner of a particular phonorecord nor any person in possession of a particular copy of a computer program (including any tape, disk, or other medium embodying such program), may, for the purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage, dispose of, or authorize the disposal of, the possession of that phonorecord or computer program (including any tape, disk, or other medium embodying such program) by rental, lease, or lending, or by any other act or practice in the nature of rental, lease, or lending.
    For the sake of brevity, I've omitted further material including certain exceptions.

    For the full section, use the search page of the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Law Revision Council [], enter "17" for title, and "software rent" for the search term. The first hit will be 17 USC Sec. 109.

    It's obvious that what the software industry wanted (and got) was a different pricing model from the motion picture industry. The studios sell tapes to video rental stores, and usually do not receive a cut of the rental price. Software companies didn't want there to be any rental unless they were the renter and received the entire rental fee.

  • Microsoft always bashes ideas a year or so before they decide they were really good. It's a tradition.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You may already be renting software, even if the rental is once removed.

    Ever donate to a well known charity, like United Way, Red Cross, or Big Brothers/Big Sisters?

    They, in effect, rent the software that tracks donations and names. Not explicitly, of course, but the software the use is so complicated it can only be used with the annual support contract.

    Hey, all you wannabee hotshots, want to scoop up some of the bucks? Look for publishers like Blackbaud (Oracle), Results/Plus (Access), DonorPerfect, Donor II, and Campagne Associates.

    Replace the database with PostgreSQL, Adabas, or Solid (forget toys like msql or MySql), make up the interface with PHP, and open source it. You'll kill the rental industry in charitable organizations, and your donation dollar will go a lot farther.

    I could tell you how much these products cost, but you'd never believe me.

  • A good part of the mindshare of M$ software is due to people having illegitamate copies. Rent-a-soft gets rid of that -- probably causing the said people to go the way of the demo scene (into either nothingness, or the 'Way of the Penguin'(tm) :-))
  • As far as always having the most up to date software is concerned. I prefer to wait and see if an app/utility/kernel is stable or has obvious security holes before I install it. Unless I'm feeling daring or in a helpfull debugging mood and decide to try it while it's 'hot'. In which case I know the risk I'm taking. Imagine always having the latest 'holes' and 'bugs' and never having enough time to know what and where they are before the next set arrive. Doing rpm -Uvh is hard??? It doesn't get much easier. *Head nod to Debian folks.* ;)
  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday August 15, 1999 @01:01PM (#1745933) Homepage Journal

    The MCI story today points out a BIG reason not to 'rent' applets. Just imagine a frame relay meltdown on Apr 14th in a world where people rent home accounting applets.

  • IIRC, software rental under NAFTA is illegal. Maybe this applies only to third parties,
    Yes, the copyright owner can rent their software out, or authorize a third party to do so.

    17 USC Sec. 109

  • Oracle's Ellison used to preach the NCA as the death of Microsoft (at least for Windows) In
    his vision the only program running locally would
    be netscape with java. Sun's
    idea [] was simular
    but based purely around java.

    Basically the whole thing was deisgned to
    make the OS unimportant on the client.
    Sun still makes the JavaOS machines and Oracle's
    offspring company NCA is still kicking around
    but they neither really took off. Strangely
    enough MS's entry truely fopped.

    This all leads me to wondering why Microsoft
    is trying to push this forward again. What
    exactly do they think they'll gain?

  • It seems to me that Micro$oft is forgeting a couple of important items.

    #1 Open source -- the more M$ tries to squeeze dollars out of the home user the more attractive open source products like Linux become. Linux and open source has made good progress against M$, and this trend will accelerate the greedier M$ becomes. Currently Linux isnt threating M$ on home systems of the general public. If M$'s scheme becomes reality I see a rapid change in Linux's potential on the home desktop. Currently most people who buy software, buy an application and use it, without upgrading for the sake of ungrading. I use Excel and M$Word versions going back pre-Win95 because they still fit my needs, and my wallet. John Q. Public wont stand for having to pay a monthly software bill. Just look at how you grumble at Uncle Sam's share of your paycheck. If there's an option... people will seek it out...especially when THEIR money is involved.

    #2 Broadband thru-put -- I dont know what kind of thru-put broad band is supposed to provide but I can say this, it isnt going to be enough. I currently have an ISP who understands cable modem technology. I have 10 Mbit up/down thru-put on my internet connection, and it still isnt enough. I am constantly waiting for blockages in the internet itself. And we are only talking about web pages, e-mail, and file downloads as being the activity on the net now. And I am sure there is more going on. But now add to that current traffic, millions of programs being downloaded, software that used to reside on the individual PC. I dont see how it can work. Even if the software was stored on the ISP's servers... thats still alot of traffic...more than what even Gbit LANs can handle. Downloading the rental-software will suck up a large precentage of the bandwidth no matter where they try to place the "rental" servers. We'll be back to bitching about how slow the web is.

    All in all...this is a nice way to convert broadband connections into 9600 baud modems :-)

  • Rent an ap. In most instances I'd say hell no, as I've noticed many of the posters say.

    For me, the OS, my HTML editor, image manipulation, word processor, spreadsheet and my various utils are essential. I need the media at least until xDSL comes through my area. Finally, with as much as i use these apps daily, i want the unlimited use license.

    Sounds familiar right. But here's where i see the benefit of *some* rent an app offerings. Take WebTurboTax this past year. My taxes, thus far, are not complex. I don't pay capital gains, I don't itemize. As such, my use for tax software is roughly once a year. I want to use it once, get the refund money from the feds and the state, etc.

    After that, MY usefulness for that software ends until April 13, 2000 comes around.

    In cases like this and similar cases I'm sure exist for many if not most users, rent an app makes sense.
  • How about once per month, or per year? I think that makes a bit more sense. :)
  • Salesperson: "You can get W2K only by renting it."
    Customer: "But I'd much rather just buy it."
    Salesperson: "You can get W2K only by renting it."
    Customer: "You stupid moron, I DON'T WANT TO RENT IT!".
    Salesperson: "You can get W2K only by renting it."
    Customer:"Jesus.. One please."
  • Hear, hear!

    If Microsoft were to implement a plan like this on a large scale while providing no other (reasonably priced) options, the resentment that it'd cause would be incredible.

    Fortunately, OSS'll be providing an alternative at an exceedingly reasonable price.

    A move like this by any large proprietary company would only be good for free software.

  • Microsoft doesn't look all that far ahead in some ways, but in pricing models they do look a long way out. I think that they are not asking "why rent when you can own?", but rather "Can we get them to rent instead of steal?" They have to lower the cost of acquisition, to eliminate the motive for stealing/copying/liberating the software. I would be much more likely to steal a $500 ap than something that costs $1/use, especially if I don't intend to use it very often. It's interesting, too, to think about what this might mean overseas. Piracy is even more common there. Finally, the nice thing about renting is that it would be possible to prevent people from reverse-engineering or making compatible products, because there's a moving target. One could always break compatibility with anything at any time. I've heard no end of horror stories about people upgrading X and then Y not working due to incompatible DLLs. If these could be updated on the fly, at any time, then people would stop trying to write compatible software. thad
  • As an idea, it's over six years old []
  • Sort of a vague article , no? I suppose this is an interesting idea, but it would be unusual for microsoft to actually try to something innovative and succeed. Most likely, some one else will come up with the successful business model and then they can steal it.
    1. My computer will run "rented" software, and then it will self-destruct, possibly leaving my data hijacked in some format, only that software can read, so I will have to rent it again until either that data, that company or me will die.
    2. My computer will run some client, software will run somewhere else, and all my data will be sent to the company that provides this service.
      1. Yeah, great.

  • by Masem ( 1171 ) on Sunday August 15, 1999 @07:37AM (#1745947)
    Software licensing today to sites are already
    like this. Generally, pay a yearly fee for
    X users of a program at any time. So this
    might work industrially... but it's nothing new.

    Ballmer however proposed this for home use.
    Let's look at the average software that will
    be installed on a home computer:

    MS Office
    MS IE
    MS Outlook Express
    Shareware Apps

    Which of the parties involved is going to profit
    most from this deal? The idea of software
    rentals is basically trying to squeeze as much
    $$$ from the home market as it can, as the
    software itself is generally a fixed purchase..
    buy once, that's it.

    Unfortunately, this will catch on by other software companies because, yes, it is a way
    to continue to get revenue for a piece of software
    already bought.

    The Free Software Movement is poised to undermine
    the large corporations if this move does go though within the next few years, of course.
    Consider the number of people that are buying
    those close-to-free PCs with the requirement
    to buy 3yrs of ISP service. The rebates at most
    $400, but in the end, you'll be paying $720 for
    the service. Why do people like this? They
    only have to pay once for everyone, and it never
    crosses their mind again. If Free Software
    can offer home users one less bill they have
    to pay, that's a big bonus for it.

  • This is just sad. I seem to recall Microsoft bashing Sun for the same basic idea less than a year ago..Now they want in on it.
    Hmmm.. If I rent a car, and crash it..I have to pay for it. I wonder if it works the same for renting Microsoft applications. Ahha! Now I get it -- You have to pay for it if you crash it! So that's why theyre doing it! :)

    It just astounds me to what degrees people put up with this company. Whats next? "Microsoft Office 2000 -- $500 Down, And zero-point-nine percent financing!" ....?

    Bowie J. Poag
    Bowie J. Poag
  • by divbyzero ( 23176 ) on Sunday August 15, 1999 @11:47AM (#1745955) Journal

    I remember hearing a theory that the centralization / decentralization trends were completely cyclical. IE: each has its advantages, and every few years, somebody gets fed up with the disadvantages of whichever they're using and starts pushing the other one again.

    In the centralized camp, we have the mainframe / terminal pair, the minicomputer / terminal pair, enterprise software updates via "push apps" (circa 1996), "network computers" (circa 1997), Web apps (Hotmail is an application by traditional definitions), and now this Microsoft thingie.

    In the decentralized camp, we have workstations, PC's, and personal servers (ie: a single user Linux box) in their various generations.

    Corporations always tend to prefer the centralized model, because it makes for automatic standardization (which is cheaper and easier to support), and easy censorship. "The computer is merely a tool" users also like it because it takes the responsibility of computer maintenance and administration out of their hands.

    Power users usually prefer the decentralized model because they value privacy and freedom of choice. It's no surprise, then, what viewpoint most Slashdotters will take!

    -- Div.

    But my grandest creation, as history will tell,
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've considered application leasing to be a bit inevitable for a while... Certainly it is a far more sensible model than the current one (which is really leasing by default - you may own a copy of windoze, but for most people it just isn't going to be used in 10-20 years. Win95 will be surpassed by Win98 and Win2k in a period of under five years).

    Lease the whole PC... sign up with MSN, get a free
    PC and all the MS software you need... (MS probably makes most of its money from companies, so why not use this as a scheme to cement market control in the less profitable home sector?).

    Given the development of linux etc, MS has to get a business model ready to roll for when they start giving windoze away in a few years. They'll probably copy AOL and either give users free (or discounted) access to MS software etc if they access it over the MSN, or charge a slightly higher monthly amount for those who access it from other ISPs.

    Get your MS PC for $49.99 with ADSL access, MS Win, Office and 100 points of software you can access a month... something along those lines.

    Then once MS has a significant proportion of users relying upon it, it starts to throw its weight around against competitors... Oh, the netlink between MSN and the Corel Office server is congested, isn't that a shame...

    However leasing software could be really useful. I've on and off looked at coda because it could be very useful in this regard. Pay your $5 for a months access to Civ:CTP, mount it via coda and off you go. At the end of the month, if you don't want it then you lose access to the coda server. Sure you'll need some kind of software based self destruct, but it can cripple itself into a demo version if it isn't authorised every month, and there is that legislation going around the US to let software companies contact their software on peoples machines to detonate them...

    Modularity could be a system on which to base charging too. Could select the same software package, but pay $5 for the basic release, $10 for an enhanced release and $15 for the wiz-bang 2000 features you'll never use release.

    Write once, run anywhere? Of course - with windoze. Let it run on WinCE, Win2k, WinWhatever. Give the OS away but charge a little tax on any software which goes through the MS Software Exchange. MS might still charge for Windoze some small amount for competitors, but may package it for free to MS Internet PC owners or those that sign up for the MS Software Exchange scheme.

    One of the next generation sega/nintendo/whatever devices is going to be based on WinCE - devices all set to be internet terminals as well as great game units...

    However enough rambling about MS. Leasing software is what we have today (assuming you pay for software). All leasing does IMO is ensure that companies have a good incentive to keep on developing good software, otherwise as soon as a competitor becomes better a consumer can just switch software package as easily as they can change their long distant call provider today.

    Whether it is coda or java based, I think it has a lot of potential at high data speeds. Even at low speeds and with free software it'd really nice to have a /distributed hierachy on your machine, so if you want to run the latest version of Y, you just run it, and it loads up (slowly :-). But once it is run once and nicely cached (and I don't know whether coda is the FS to do this) then it should load quite rapidly. Would be nice to allocate a chunk of say 500mb to one side to cache applications on a distributed file system...

    Could be like paying for cable access... you pay $10/month to get full access to /distributed/bloggs (bloggs being the software group). Would be a nice way to fun development of software. Could still be free to download, but for those who want a really straight forward (computer consumer versus computer enthusiast) way to run them, they pay $5/month and the money can go to help develop KDE or whatever.

    Someone could create a smart software agent that checks to see what you run, and then installs it to regular file space after X goes. Then every week or so it can compare that version against the version on the coda fs and auto upgrade it when a new version comes out (the advantage here being it could get the whole app first and then upgrade the copy on the regular fs rather than having to re-download the complete new version if you were running it on the coda fs and being stuck without functionality for an hour or whatever).

    A week or two back I did a quick run through a model for a computer & software leasing business. Basically it just consisted of people subscribing to it, and then every year they get a different computer (top level users get a brand new top of the line one, 2nd year users get the previous years top of the line model etc). All base software gets installed on the HDD, which then gets shifted with the computer when its moved, and all user documents could be stored on a removable device like the orb drive. The orb disk could be backed up to the hard drive periodically incase of media failure.

    For something like that, you'd have packages where they could pay a bit extra to get Office or to get a game every month or two etc.

    With a linux system like that, I'd probably have the core OS boot from a CD that can be replaced every month or two, along with the most frequently used apps. Perhaps just store /home on a LS-120 or an orb if there are linux drivers for it. LS-120 would be neat, as then you could have public internet terminals where you just stick in your LS-120 and off you go. I should think anyone talking to corel about 100,000 licences for their linux products could get a good enough deal that they could include it on all the home CDs and for use at the internet terminals.

    Of course, public net terminals are probably a bit of a nonstarter. Would be like public telephones coming out just a few years before mobile phones (Palm pilots etc with good wireless).

    Anyway, I've rambled more than enough here. I dislike having to login to things like this, but if anyone wants to e-mail me, will work (which I notice recently added some nonsence that bounces you through a secure server to break lynx and just looks a bit odd).
  • While the idea is kind of neat, I'm not sure the model is going to exist either as soon, or as widespread, as its proponents like to think.

    After broadband is ready, the software services will slowly filter down, replacing commercial software packages.

    I'm not sure. The utility of the interent apps really comes into play for products that you don't use often enough to justify the (current) full commercial price. For small businesses, or for home users who wish to sample a product, it may be worthwile. But for most corporate users, or developers, where an app is being used constantly, the it soon becomes worthwile to buy the product outright (even with things like yearly licensing and upgrades factored in).

    For the home user, it may be a case of try before you buy, rather than the limited-trial demos of today. For some things, like using a Tax program once yearly, I can see the utility. Other power-use programs may not be so easily transfered.

    The other concern is use. How would a charge be implemented?

    Per-use, each time you open an app? Then we will have a situation much like AOL had when they went to their unlimited use plan. People dial-in once, and never leave (until Windoze they'd still be loging in 2-3 times a day) ;0

    Or per-minute, as I know I have a tendencey to open up 5-7 apps when I get into work and leave them there all day. Again, it would be better to own it.

    Howabout a per-file app, as each time you create a new file you get dinged. Again. I can see people opening one big spreadsheet, and just zooming to different parts as needed.

    This is a neat idea, but there are still some issues that need to be worked out. That, coupled with the people that are pushing this, make me very wary of this model every taking over as the distibution channel de riguer.
  • This can only be good for us in the long run. With every attempt on Microsoft's part to stretch their tendrils in to people's lives, the case for Free and Open Source software becomes stronger.

    Consider this: you're an average consumer, maybe a little better informed. You are looking at two computers. One comes with Windows 2000, MS Office, MS Internet Explorer, and an MS Entertainment Pack. The other comes with Red Hat Linux 7.0, StarOffice 6.0, Mozilla 5.0; and is a bit more expensive, since it uses higher quality hardware.

    You compare the prices, and you think maybe the Windows computer is a better bargain -- until you take a look at this little thing at the end of the price on the Windows box. $1299, plus $25.00 a month for software rental??? Compare this to $1400 for a Linux box, with $0 a month in software rental charges.

    The sad fact is, I can easily see Microsoft making a killing off of software rental, which IMO is immoral and appalling; and I can see Software Rental Fraud laws appearing on the books of every state, making it a felony to defraud Microsoft out of their monthly checks. The major question in my mind is what role Linux will play in this new way of doing business.

  • Debian has this. When you want to install something, you just say apt-get install program. To upgrade every program on your system, you just say apt-get update ; apt-get upgrade
  • by extrasolar ( 28341 ) on Sunday August 15, 1999 @08:10AM (#1745992) Homepage Journal
    Yes. My thoughts exactly. I beleive that as modem connections speed up with things like cable modems, we will see a lot of people renting apps that aren't even on their own machine. I wouldn't doubt that a lot of corporations are planning this already.

    I also beleive that free software will be able to curve this trend that these corporations are wanting. I still think it would be cool to be running programs on an internet servor, but I want freedom to that software, not restrictions.

    I can see a number of journalists praising such an endeaver: "They upgrade the software for you so you don't need to undergo the complicated upgrade process!" Of cource if this happens, the companies would experience no real need to make better releases of software. Heck, if people need to pay just to access their software, why should they spend any money on R&D?

    This is really really bad and I praise Richard Stallman for the free software movement. I know at least I am not going to be renting any software anytime soon.


  • It takes a lot for me to volentarily put my hands in my wallet and support Bill, but Teledesic - satellite internet access at 2mb speeds for the entire globe - just might do it. At the rate telcos and cablecos are sabotaging their chances through exceptionally poor service and availability, I see Bill cleaning up. Much as I despise Bill and his current product line, I have to cheer him on here.

    I just hope he won't require Windows to access it. Argh!



In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle