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Microsoft is to rent software by the hour for the first time via EasyEverything cybercafes.

Punters will be able to access Office 2000, Works Suite 2001 and Encarta 2001 for as little as $1.50, with the scheme kicking off at the New York EasyEverything, due to open in Times Square. HP has also put some cash into the venture, and its CEO Carly Fiorina will be sharpening her scissors for the traditional ribbon cutting at the event on November 28.

The monster Times Square EasyEverything, which will take entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou's empire into the US, will have 800 terminals open 24/7. The company reckons the outlet, which will also offer Internet telephony and Webcams, will be the world's biggest Internet café.

The amount of time customers get for their money at EasyEverything depends on how busy the outfits are - it can vary between 20 minutes and six hours online. The $1.50 software rental fee will be a one-off charge on top of the general $1.50 fee for Net access.

The British company plans to add the software rental and other facilities to its existing cybercafes in Europe - which currently offer a scaled-down Works suite - at a later date.

EasyEverything has ten budget cybercafes across Europe, and aims to expand this figure to 22 in Europe and the US by the end of the year. Its average outlet gets 5,000 visitors per day. ®

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