Software Subscriptions and Value

In the past few weeks, Microsoft has been getting some bad press. Okay, I don’t suppose that is particularly a news item. The current issue is the change in Microsoft’s software license. In layman’s terms, Microsoft is switching from selling its software to leasing it.

Back and Forth

Office XPFor instance, when a business licenses Office XP, it can use the software for three years. At the end of that time, the business must buy a new license. People often refer to this as a software subscription: When your subscription is up, you don’t have access to the software anymore.

That is good idea for Microsoft – it enables them to ensure a stable revenue stream. Microsoft has the market clout to turn this proposition into a viable enterprise, and Microsoft is not the only software provider to use a subscription model. Code Warrior, for example, has been sold as a subscription. So has LinuxPPC. I recently read a business report of a company that switched to a subscription model and used it as a competitive edge against its competition.

I can understand Microsoft’s motivation to use software subscriptions, and it could even be good for consumers. A couple months ago, I had to give a talk on chronic back pain and opioid drugs. It would have been great to go to the grocery store to buy one week’s worth of PowerPoint. That would be a dollar well spent. Surely it would only cost a dollar – that would be the equivalent to $150 for a professional application that comes out once every three years. And that dollar would probably save enough time to be worth it.

Doubtless my scenario is a pipe dream. Microsoft wouldn’t sell PowerPoint for a dollar. I suspect that their idea is to get me to spend more money on software, not less. What is good for Microsoft is not necessarily good for me.

In many ways, what Microsoft is proposing is the opposite of what I think Low End Mac is all about, value.

Macintosh Value

Sawtooth Power Mac G4One of the reasons I love old Macs is that they provide so much bang for the buck. For well under a hundred US dollars, I can buy a Power Mac that will do the things that I want to do smoothly and elegantly. That Power Mac would be better looking than most PCs I could buy at the local computer store. The interface would be logical and easy to use. And the software I can run on a Power Mac is amazing. An older Power Mac may not cost much money, but it can be a fabulous experience when I set it up right.

It has been said before, and it bears repeating: Mindless upgrading is a huge waste of money and energy. Newer software is not necessarily better, and software subscriptions can be an example of mindless upgrading. There are times when subscriptions may be a good way to do things (Codewarrior and LinuxPPC spring to mind), but most of the software that Microsoft or Apple sells are not good examples.

Software subscriptions don’t seem very frugal. In my mind, frugality is not about surviving on a diet of one bean a day. Rather, frugality is the virtue of getting my money’s worth. Why spend $30 for shorts at Banana Republic if I can find the same shorts for $7 (with the tag on) at the local thrift store?

14" ibook G3

However, if I didn’t own a laptop, I’d buy a new iBook. I think they offer the best value of any Mac portable, new or used, because they are small, lightweight, and ready for a future of Mac OS X.

Mac OS X really gets in the way of my frugality. I believe that its stability and new features are really a leap forward. But by the time I upgrade all my hardware and software, I will need to spend thousands of dollars. Mac OS X is not worth the money now; I’ll need a lot more native software that pushes the envelope before Mac OS X will become a good value compared to my PowerBook 3400 with Mac OS 8.1. Right now Mac OS X is cool and interesting, but it’s not an efficient way to spend my student loans.

That’s a tough conclusion for a technophile like me.

But not everyone is as interested in frugality. If everyone thought as I did, people might wait until their computers broke before upgrading. As reliable as Macs are, it would be hard for Apple to survive. Indeed, I could still be using my Mac IIsi!

An advantage of living in a consumer society is that I can rely on expensive computers becoming “obsolete” and so affordable on the used market that I’ll be able to upgrade and get a good value. I can’t buy a Power Mac 8600 for $100 yet, but the requirements of Mac OS X make that day not too far off.

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