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Microsoft Won't Stop in 'Albany' After April

Microsoft disclosed Wednesday that it will cut off its Equipt subscription service – formerly codenamed 'Albany' -- for Office and Live OneCare as of April 30.

After that date, the copies of Office Home and Student that are part of the service will default to "limited functionality" mode, which will let users view Office documents but not change or edit them, nor will it allow them to create new documents, Microsoft said in a blog post.


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In November, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) quietly disclosed that it was going to close the service down when it announced the cancellation of its OneCare anti-malware and antivirus subscription service effective June 30.

OneCare customers will be able to migrate to a free anti-malware service codenamed 'Morro' when that product is ready for release in the second half of the year.

Microsoft, which has been mum about the cutoff date until this week, posted the date on its Help and Support blog, which also stated that users will be automatically warned of the expiration date if they have Windows Update enabled.

When it rolled out last July, Equipt was viewed as another attempt by Microsoft to close in on defining its "software-plus-services" strategy. The idea was to produce an attractive bundle of services for users at a much lower incremental price.

Microsoft combined Office and OneCare into a subscription service that cost $69.99 per year, a much more affordable deal than $149.95 for Office Home and Student and $49.95 per year for a standalone subscription to OneCare.

By November, however, Microsoft executives had come to the decision to shut down OneCare. Since then, subscribers have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. So what happens next next?

"Microsoft Office will stop receiving subscription license updates and will enter reduced functionality mode .… [also] OneCare will stop receiving the periodic updates that are required for continued security protection," said the post.

What should subscribers do? "You should uninstall Microsoft Equipt from all computers after April 30, 2009. We recommend that you install another version of Microsoft Office and replace your antivirus software," the post continued.

One analyst points out that the discontinuation won't be as painful as it could have been – at least financially. The Equipt site states that Microsoft will provide subscribers with a free copy of Office Home and Student to replace the one that will expire April 30. Additionally, Microsoft will refund the unexpired months that the subscription would have left to run.

Subscribers can apply for refunds at the Microsoft Equipt Subscriber Center.

"The question is what anti-virus product subscribers will use because Morro isn't due until the second half of the year," Rob Helm, research director at Directions on Microsoft,

So why end the Equipt service?
Microsoft's various posts explain that customers' need for a free malware engine caused the demise of OneCare, with the domino effect that without OneCare, there really is no Equipt bundle any longer.

However, one analyst wondered whether one of the problems with OneCare might have been more a question of not enough subscribers to make the services viable.

"My sense is this will affect a fairly small number of people [subscribers]," Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, "It may not have done very well in the market."

When queried as to the demise of OneCare and Equipt, however, Microsoft said it was not a lack of subscribers. "The subscription model did not fail. This delivery method was well-received in the market," a Microsoft spokesperson in an e-mail.

"We will look into offering future Office products and services via a subscription model, but have nothing to announce at this time," the spokesperson added.

One side effect of killing off Equipt, however, may be lower confidence in Microsoft's famous "stick-to-it" attitude when it comes to other online investments, according to Helm.

"It's definitely a reasonable question to ask," he said. "The customers have to ask 'Is this [product] something Microsoft is really committed to'?"

 

 
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