Adobe recently announced that they were eliminating their Creative Suite software in favor of a web-based service. This once again introduces some speculation that Microsoft will follow a similar path by getting rid of its Office software, and possibly more, in favor of the Office 365 service.
For the moment that is not going to be an issue. In a recent blog post from Office team spokesman Clint Patterson, we learned that the move has been considered already but has not been deemed wise for the moment. Specifically, Patterson states that “we think people’s shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time.”
That does indicate a sense of inevitability about the whole transition. While the time frame that Patterson presents is around a decade, which incidentally puts him right in line with other such estimates that have come out of the company before now, that only covers the Office side of business. There is also the chance that other pieces of Microsoft software, up to and including Windows itself, could be brought to the same model.
The appeal of the subscription model is obvious. It can interest more customers thanks to the lower initial adoption cost while providing a more reliable income stream as time goes on. Customers also benefit in many ways thanks to the constantly updated nature of such services. Microsoft gets a smaller fee each month that adds up to far more than a single purchase ever would as time goes on while the customer is assured of the very latest features, improvements, and compatibility.
It sounds great when you put it the right way, but it isn’t a model that will work for all users. Many volume license accounts have no interest in updating to the latest version on a regular basis. The emphasis is on stability rather than keeping current. Software as a service doesn’t account for that approach nearly as well. Rolling updates for something like Windows 8 would only introduce more such conflicts, given how even minor interface adjustments can have a significant short term impact on productivity.
As it stands, we can expect to see the subscription option become the standard on a number of products. Office is pretty much inevitable. The shift to Office 365 as the basic package has already been emphasized in marketing and development efforts and there’s no sign of that stopping. It allows for a lot more flexibility on the personal level, opening up the software to far more people, and the web apps associated with it present a lot of opportunities.
Operating systems and other such basic functions will take a while longer. It’s likely that there will be at least some attempt to run a subscription-based Windows environment at some point, but the resistance to that is likely to make the bad publicity Windows 8 has enjoyed look negligible. We know it’s going to be attempted in some form and that efforts will certainly begin in the next few years, but success would be a long shot.