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Microsoft flogs subscriptions to the unwary and confused

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Comment There's no such thing as a coincidence or a missed opportunity in the world of Microsoft, and this is no ordinary week.

Just days before thousands of partners from across the globe descend on Microsoft's annual World Wide Partner Conference in the heat of Texas, Microsoft announced licensing programs clearly intended to whet their palates.

The guttural sounding Equipt wraps a version of Office in with Microsoft's security update service and online storage - Windows Live OneCare and Office Live Workspaces, respectively. For big businesses, Microsoft also announced that Select Plus Volume Licensing is due later this year.

Microsoft will likely promote both as services that partners can sell, as they mean subscriptions that provide predictable and guaranteed revenue. There are fundamental issues though that mean that next week you should put your fingers in your ears and sing "la, la-la la, la" when Microsoft starts talking.

Let's take Equipt first. Misery, it's said, loves company. Microsoft has picked Circuit City to pimp the service. The US retailer is struggling to find a buyer for its business, after Blockbuster backed out of a proposed deal and remains in the wake of rival CompUSA's closure. The fact that Circuit City is the first to sign up is a bad omen in a branch of the IT ecosystem that Microsoft has had nailed for years: the high street channel.

Microsoft's services are also not just confusing, they are in a state of confusion and always changing. Do you want to get caught in the middle of that?

Office Live is targeted at small businesses. Or so we're told. Yet why is Microsoft making it available under Equipt with the Home and Student 2007 edition of Office?

Business users interested in Office will opt for the full suite. Also, being naturally fiscally shrewd types, they will pay for the lifetime license, not for subscriptions that end up costing more in the long run.

Microsoft is clearly trying to offer some kind of desktop and cloud-based service here, akin to Apple's combo of the Mac/iPhone and MobileMe. But take a look at Office Live and the Home and Student versions of Office and you'll quickly see that these are weak imitations from a finished look and features perspective.

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

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