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Microsoft eyes metered-PC boondoggle

One dollar for an hour with Office

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Microsoft hopes to charge you for PC hardware and software in much the same way wireless carriers charge you for text messages.

As detailed in a patent application recently unveiled by the US Patent and Trademark Office, Redmond seeks exclusive rights to a "Metered Pay-As-You-Go Computing Experience." This would involve saddling PC users with a machine whose components can only be used if you fork over more cash.

Filed in July 2007, the would-be patent describes a computer with "individually metered hardware and software components that a user can select and activate based on current need." And each of these items would have a cost associated with it.

"Beyond simple activation, the user may be able to select a level of performance related to processor, memory, graphics power, etc. that is driven not by a lifetime maximum requirement, but rather by the need of the moment," Microsoft's shameless patent application continues.

"When the need is browsing, a low level of performance may be used and when network-based interactive gaming is the need of the moment, the highest available performance may be made available to the user."

For example, Redmond says, use of Microsoft Office might cost you a dollar an hour, whereas an hour of gaming might be $1.25. An hour of browsing? 80 cents.

With today's PC business model, Microsoft explains, manufacturers and resellers get "more or less a one chance at the consumer kind of mentality." Corporate "elasticity curves are based on the pressure to maximize profits on a one-time sale."

But with Redmond's pay-as-you-go model, manufacturers and resellers can tap your wallet around the clock until the end of time. "Because hardware yields and software duplication costs allow very low cost on the margin of increased performance, manufacturers and software developers may see an overall increase in revenues when their product is available to users on a per-access or subscription basis that reflects actual consumption," Redmond burbles.

"Certainly the overall technology experience is that when given an opportunity to have increased capability, users migrate to it. Thus, users get the performance they want and sellers get incremental sales from a greatly-expanded user base that would have never considered a one-time purchase of a fairly exotic-looking and high-price hardware or software component."

As Information Week points out, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and oh so many others are already pushing a pay-as-you-go model on the server side of things. They insist on calling it cloud computing. But server infrastructure is expensive. PC hardware and software are not. ®

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