Microsoft gets into software rental business

On Wed., July 2, 2008, your pals at Microsoft finally did it. Equipt, an all-in-one security and productivity software subscription service for consumers, made its appearance, though I’m not sure I’d call it “long-awaited.” In one installation, Equipt delivers anti-malware protection, features to simplify PC management, productivity tools, and online services -- all for the bargain price of $69.99 a year -- and that's for three PCs.

Code-named “Albany,” Microsoft Equipt offers Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, which covers the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Need Outlook? Sorry, you're screwed. It also includes Windows Live OneCare, Microsoft's all-in-one security and PC management service; and Windows Live tools, encompassing Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Photo Gallery.

But wait, there's more! Office Live Workspace is included, too. It's a new service from Microsoft for saving documents to a dedicated online Workspace and then share them with, as Microsoft is saying "friends and classmates."

Why now? I remember the great Mike Maples, Microsoft's big kahuna of software of the late 1980s and early 1990s talking about the sale of software as an annuity nearly 20 years ago. Mike was (and no doubt still is) a great guy and a visionary. It looks like he was right.

Maybe Java-based Sun's StarOffice suite is starting to make inroads. It's $69.99 to $99.99 for a one-time license. And the 2 suite is completely free. No wonder Bill is getting out of town.

Curiously, Equipt will be sold initially in nearly 700 Circuit City stores in the U.S. starting mid-July 2008. I wonder what Circuit City had to do to get this, uh, opportunity. It's not an exclusive deal, meaning that Best Buy and others will eventually sell it, too. But Circuit City? This is a chain in deep trouble. Even Blockbuster, which was considering acquiring the chain, said 'no thank you' once it had looked at the books. You've got to admit, it's a pretty strange distribution model.

Is this a case of Microsoft trying to help out an underdog? It wouldn't be the first time -- you do remember Microsoft investing $150 million in Apple back in August 1997?

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