Microsoft has been quietly testing a new "pay-as-you-go" software rental service in South Africa, Mexico and Romania. The service allows users to pay a monthly fee of around $15 for the use of Office 2003 – according to Microsoft, the program offers customers "the opportunity to obtain genuine Microsoft Office 2003 at a low upfront price, along with the flexibility to pay over time and renew when they choose." Still, Microsoft is being careful to emphasize that the Office 2003 rental program is merely a trial to judge public reaction. According to the spokesperson, Microsoft is currently "reviewing feedback from the trial in order to determine whether to extend it" and said it is "too early to speculate" about exactly what form this will take.
Last year, the software giant started a project called FlexGo, where customers purchased a whole computer preloaded with Windows XP and other Microsoft software for a discount price, then used prepaid cards to continue using the PC. The program met with some success when it was first tried in Brazil: 31% said they would not have made the purchased at all had the program not been available. Microsoft's Software Assurance program, where users pay a yearly fee in order to always get the most up-to-date version of Microsoft products, could also be considered a software rental program. The traditional model of software sales is unlikely to disappear, but I wouldn't be surprised if more options, including "renting" software, become available internationally. Either way, Microsoft's rental program may very easily turn out to be a success in countries where, because of poverty contrasting with high software prices, piracy is currently the only option.
News source: Ars Technica