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An interesting set of responses have already come in to the article here about Microsoft charging for Office beta downloads.

The comments already attached to it I will let stand for themselves, but a couple of emails I have received are of interest: one because it appeals to the naturally occurring improbable-conspiracy-theorist in me, and the other because it may contain a genuine, and slightly underhand, marketing reason for the move to start charging.

Firstly, the conspiracy theory. I am grateful to Jez for the suggestion that "Bill Gates is actually the world's biggest Linux advocate, but due to the potential for a political nightmare if he just said this, he is being sneaky and trying his best to make windows so un-workable that people are forced to switch to the superior OS."

I suppose it could be true.

The second email, however, may contain more to ponder. Roger Thomas works in the finance industry, and brought to my attention what might just be the real, marketing-driven reason behind the move.

By making people pay, Microsoft will garner a great deal of valuable information about them – names, addresses, valid email addresses etc – all types of information that marketing departments move heaven and earth to acquire.

But as companies like Microsoft move towards the subscription model for revenue generation, rather than the cash-up-front comfort of the outright purchase of licences, identifying customers with ownership of a valid and functional credit card – presumably to which some form of "regular payments" order can be attached – is important information.

Couple this with a proven penchant for being an "early adopter" – and actually shelling out money for a beta copy of Office would be just such a sign – and suddenly Microsoft has, Roger Thomas speculates, information that is "worth its weight in gold".

Perhaps we all ought to start singing that old Hollies hit, "King Midas in Reverse" as a protective incantation. ®

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