Windows for Rent

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While you were probably having great fun on New Year's Eve, Microsoft was quietly making it possible for businesses to rent Windows and Office. This stealth move has the potential to make big changes in how businesses work with Office and Windows.

I would argue that Microsoft hasn't actually let you own Windows or Office for years. On the business side, Microsoft's volume licensing options, such as Software Assurance, require companies to pay for the right to use Windows and Office over the course of three years, which amounts to a rental program as far as I'm concerned. But with this new program, as first reported by Mary Jo Foley, business customers could "pay a flat fee to use Windows or Office 2007 (Standard or Professional versions) for a year."

You might think that, as an individual user, you own the operating system that came on your PC -- but you'd be wrong. You can't sell the Windows that's pre-installed on your PC. You can sell a used copy of Windows, if you bought a copy and then deleted it from your computer. So, for example, if you bought a copy of Windows 7 to upgrade from your old PC's pre-existing Vista, you can't sell that copy of Vista, but you can sell the copy of Windows 7. This is one of the many reasons I prefer desktop Linux.

But what does this really mean for business users? It's complicated. First, you still need to 'buy' a copy of Windows or Office. If you then buy 'rental rights, what that gives you is the right to let others users use your system. To quote Microsoft, "Windows desktop operating system and Microsoft Office system licenses do not permit renting, leasing, or outsourcing the software to a third party. As a result, many organizations that rent, lease, or outsource desktop PCs to third parties (such as Internet cafés, hotel and airport kiosks, business service centers, and office equipment leasing companies) are not compliant with Microsoft license requirements.

"Rental Rights are a simple way for organizations to get a waiver of these licensing restrictions through a one-time license transaction valid for the term of the underlying software license or life of the PC. Solidify your role as trusted advisor by helping your customers become compliant using an additive license that fits their business model-without requiring special tools, processes, reporting, or paperwork."

In short, Microsoft isn't making it possible to rent its software. You still need to buy it, before you can 'rent' it out to other users.

On the surface, it just sounds like it's just a way for Microsoft to squeeze more money from companies who are already letting their customers use Windows. I, for one, didn't know that if I owned a gaming store and I let people play games on my Windows PC that I was violating my license.

I think this is more than just that though. I think this is the first step to Microsoft offering their full operating system and Office suite on the cloud.

Think about it. Companies like Zoho and Google with Google Docs and are showing that businesses are willing to use online office suites. Heck, a recent IDC survey showed that one in five businesses are already using Google Docs during the normal course of business.

At the same time, with Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2, Microsoft is offering a new service called Secure Remote Connection. With this a user on any Windows 7 system, not just his or her office laptop, can run a corporate copy of Microsoft Office or even a complete thin-client desktop. Now, imagine, Microsoft making Microsoft Office available as a rental from Windows 2008 R2-servers based on a cloud. I think I could sell that to Microsoft corporate customers. And, if I can see it, I'm sure they can too.

Keep an eye on this new rental development folks, I think we may be seeing a new and interesting twist on how Microsoft tries to make money. And, if that puts a spoke in Google's Internet office software wheels, well Microsoft won't cry about that.

This story, "Windows for Rent" was originally published by Computerworld.

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