Pay-as-you-go software

Anthony Caruana
11 August, 2012
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Buying software is going the way of the dodo. You might find that hard to believe given the effort Apple, Microsoft and others have gone to in establishing online software stores that make it easy to buy software, but we are slowly heading into a new era.

At the moment, software falls into two groups – purchased and locally installed, and cloud-based subscriptions. However, a hybrid model is starting to appear: subscription services that deliver the latest features to your locally installed software without needing to wait for new versions.

Many businesses pay annual maintenance fees to vendors that guarantee access to the latest applications. However, these schemes have been out of reach for consumers and SMBs.

Apple has, to some degree, opted for such a model by stealth. The last couple of versions of OS X have been very inexpensive, so as long as you stay current and pay the $30 or so every couple of years, you can easily upgrade to the latest big cat.

Earlier this year Adobe announced that its Creative Suite would be available via subscription. You pay a monthly or annual fee for access to the Creative Cloud service (pictured) and that gets you access to the latest CS6 software as well as any updates that Adobe makes available.

The software is downloaded and installed locally so you’re not running the applications from the cloud. If you cancel a month-to-month or annual membership or let a prepaid membership expire you lose access to the applications. But work saved to your computer can still be accessed.

Content you create can be shared using Adobe’s Creative Cloud file- sharing and website-hosting services so that you can create and publish from a single service.

A side-effect of this model is that pesky things like version numbers cease to be relevant. As long as you maintain the subscription you’ll have the latest version.

The cost of Adobe’s Creative Cloud is significant at $62.99 per month (including GST) – students and teachers pay just $25 per month – but that might be easier to swallow than the $3000 Creative Suite Production Premium

runs at. And, in a couple of year’s time when Adobe announces the next major release, you won’t have to find a pile of money for an upgrade. You just keep paying the monthly fee and the latest features will already be installed. Symantec recently announced a similar scheme for its security products. For example, a new Hotspot Privacy app will be appearing later this year. It will run on your Mac or iOS device and require a subscription that gives you a secure internet connection when using public Wi-Fi hotspots. You can pay for either a daily, monthly or annual pass depending on your needs. The idea is that you only pay for access when you need it.

Similarly, rather than upgrading to the latest version of its Mac security software each year, paying an annual subscription will mean that new features will be added as they are available, not only when you upgrade. As long as you pay the annual fee you get the latest features as they are ready.

Pricing isn’t yet finalised and the services will be rolled out later this year.

Microsoft has been flirting with subscription software for some time. Even though the next release of Office is likely to be for Windows, many features that appear in the Windows version eventually find their way to the Mac version. Don’t be surprised to see Office 2013 or 2014 for the Mac to come with a pay-by-the-month option.

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