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Microsoft needs 'off switch'

I'd like to test your beta, where do I pay?

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Comment What are we to make of the latest news about Microsoft Office – namely the story that the company has opted to charge people to download betas rather than cut off the supply? It reckons it has supplied 500 per cent more betas than it planned.

Does this mean someone in Redmond forgot to write an accumulator routine that said "stop at 600,000";?

OK, so it is only $1.50, but if this is still in the realm of genuine beta testing then the idea of asking people to pay to see how many bugs a vendor can generate is an idea that we must sincerely hope does not become endemic amongst the software development community. Getting potential customers to pay good money to find that any product might still not be fit for purpose or riddled with bugs would no doubt be an attractive prospect for vendors.

The next step must surely be that any user finding a problem with the beta will be obliged to pay Microsoft for that privilege. If paying for the server costs of downloading is already required, the actual costs of answering questioning emails from users – let alone fixing problems they might still uncover – is a far meatier economic burden and must obviously be passed on.

Alternatively, of course, the beta programme is simply marketing under another name – the old buy-now-pay-later game of getting three million people using it for "free" until they become so enamoured or committed to it that buying a licence is the easiest option. That in itself is fair enough, but modifying the rules so people pay to be marketed to, paying-now-for-the-chance-to-pay-later, is inspired from a marketing department perspective.

It is a bit like getting a free-sheet local paper and having to pay a $1.50 marketing charge to every advertiser.

This would almost rank as amusingly inspired tactics if it wasn't for the fact that Microsoft hides behind the line that the demand for betas was much greater than it planned. Can't they develop an "off switch" at Redmond?

And if it is an overly successful marketing gambit, then the company should just bite the bullet. It will surely turn most of the "beta testers" into licence-holding customers, and it can't be that short of wonga to need the money, can it? ®

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