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Earlier this year, Adobe began offering a version of the Creative Suite that you can rent by the month or year rather than buy as has been traditional in the PC/Mac world. Microsoft has recently done the same with their venerable Office suite, allowing you to pay monthly for the software or buy a copy.

This form of software licensing, while not too common in the personal computer space, is nothing new to us old-timers who started on mainframes. In that world, pretty much everything was a “rental,” hardware and software. While you could buy the hardware, you couldn’t buy the operating system or most of the software  – you had to license on time.

Why do companies want to license software on time? Because it gives them a more steady income flow, for one. Rather than having to get a new version out to get a big bump in revenue, companies can get a smoother, more linear revenue stream. In addition, it’s easier to keep a customer hooked rather than have to hope customers decide to upgrade.

But is this a good deal for you? For now, you still have the choice of getting a traditional copy of the software without the monthly rental for one upfront price. Realize, though, that while you (in most cases) get a perpetual license for the software this way, you still don’t really “own” it. You only own the packaging and the physical media (if any). Still, in many cases (but again, not all) you get software free from timeouts or expiration. Of course, more and more software is “phoning home” to verify that you are legally licensed. This means you might lose the ability to use the software if the company goes belly up or has some issue where you/the software can’t reach them.

So one of the advantages for an outright purchase is gone in some cases. Rental software will most assuredly want to connect with the Mothership to find out if you are current or not on your payments, and if it can’t, you could be up a creek. How will software providers make this annoyance worth your while?

Both Adobe and Microsoft are promising new features that will be added along the way, available to subscribers but not to purchasers (until most likely the next version comes out to buy). In addition, sometimes you can save some money. In Microsoft’s case, if you are buying more than a couple of copies of Office, or you need to buy both the Windows and Mac version, you may be able to save some dollars. MS is also throwing in 60 Skype minutes a month (since they own Skype). But if you have no use for Skype minutes, that’s not much of an enticement. MS is also letting you have multiple users and machines, and you can mix and match versions.

Another benefit is always having the most current version. This also benefits the provider, as that’s one less copy of older software they have to support. It may get rid of enough older copies that the manufacturer feels justified in ending support sooner for old software.

Adobe also will let you convert to a purchase-type license (if you’ve been renting long enough) which really gives you the best of both worlds. You can always decide to convert and not lose your investment in the software. I don’t know that MS is offering that with Office.

So while this is new to a lot of people, for some of us it’s a familiar song and dance.


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