Apparently the stinging failure of Windows Vista is a distant memory for Microsoft because they've cooked up yet another hair-brained idea to draw in customers: pay-as-you-go computing. Cnet has the details today of a patent application filed by the company and I'm having trouble believing it's not Bill Gates' attempt at an early April Fool's Day joke.
Apparently, Microsoft plans to give customers a computer system, then charge them three different ways to use it. After a "one time" fee, you'll also have to pay for usage time and performance options. So far, it looks like there will price points for gaming, Internet browsing, and business / work use.
There's no mention in the Cnet article of where technical support fits into the equation, or if there will be additional fees to cover hardware and software issues.
Microsoft makes no bones about the fact that pay-as-you-go computing will cost the customer more in the long run. "Microsoft's patent application does acknowledge that a per-use model of computing would probably increase the cost of ownership over the PC's lifetime," writes Cnet's David Meyer. "The company argues in its application, however, that 'the payments can be deferred and the user can extend the useful life of the computer beyond that of the one-time purchase machine.'"
This is not an original idea and, in fact, it's a business model that has already failed. Remember PeoplePC, the company that promised a new, free computer every 3 months in exchange for a flat monthly rate? Shoddy business practices aside, the company failed when customers realized that pay-as-you-go computing is not a bargain even it comes with a free computer system.
I can't figure out who the target market for this marketing gimmick is supposed to be. Is it designed for people who can't afford the up-front cost of buying a PC, users with changing computer needs, or customers with no computer experience?
Computer prices are falling fast, and tons of wonderful free (or nearly free) software abounds. Systems can be cobbled together for next to nothing if you know what you're doing, and there are plenty of computer hobbyists to help you out if you don't. There's plenty of ways to get your hands on a computer and the software you need without resorting to paying a company what essentially amounts to an endless rental fee.
Based on what I've read in Microsoft's patent paperwork, I'd steer people away from this idea entirely.
What are your thoughts? Would you switch to pay-as-you-go computing? Let me know in the comments.