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Microsoft: Subscription-only apps? Not for us, yet

Give it a decade or so, then we'll talk

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Even though Microsoft Office won't be following Adobe Creative Suite down the subscription-only path anytime soon, you'll be renting your software before you know it, say Redmond bods.

Adobe announced that Photoshop and the rest of its industry-leading graphics software would no longer be available via the retail, perpetual-license model at its Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles on Monday.

But according to a blog post by Office group spokesman Clint Patterson on Tuesday, Microsoft isn't planning a similar move – at least, not just yet.

"Like Adobe, we think subscription software-as-a-service is the future. The benefits to consumers are huge," Patterson wrote. "However, unlike Adobe, we think people's shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time."

In his post, Patterson described industry reaction to Adobe's announcement as "mixed," which is putting it mildly. Reaction among Reg readers was largely a mix of disappointment and outrage, while opinion on Twitter seemed to range from confusion to bitter resignation.

Much of the criticism was focused on customer costs under the subscription model. At $20 per month, a one-year subscription to Photoshop already costs more than an upgrade from the previous version of the perpetual-license product would typically cost – and once that year is up, the price tag of the subscription version keeps rising.

Adobe has promised to roll out new features and improvements to its rechristened Creative Cloud applications "on a weekly basis," but given how many of its customers have been satisfied using years-old versions of its software, that's of dubious benefit.

Microsoft has similarly promised to roll out exclusive new features for users of the Office 365 subscription version of its productivity suite, but so far we haven't seen any. And just like with Adobe's suite, unless you're the kind of customer who upgrades immediately every time a new version of Office ships, you won't save money with an Office 365 subscription.

Earlier this year, Microsoft was accused of trying to strong-arm customers into the subscription model by changing the license terms of retail versions of Office 2013 so that users couldn't transfer the software when they bought a new PC, but it has since relented on that decision.

According to Patterson, the thinking in Redmond now is to offer customers choice: either retail software sold as a package, or subscription-based software that includes additional services.

Still, Patterson says, "more than a quarter" of Office purchasers have chosen to go with the subscription version since the new Office 365 packages launched in January (although he gave no actual sales figures).

"This exceeded our expectations, given that software subscriptions are relatively new to most consumers," Patterson wrote. "So, perhaps the shift is happening faster than we originally thought, and Adobe is helping blaze the trail."

He added, "Within a decade, we think everyone will choose to subscribe because the benefits are undeniable."

Got that? Everyone. Ten years. Mark your calendars. ®

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