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The ever-evolving software subscription model

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads: “Get Perpetual Office for a dirt cheap price that’s too good to be true.”

That’s it, although they don’t formulate the pitch that way. Instead, the advertisement says: “One time purchase. No subscription. This is a Microsoft Office 365 account that activates up to 5 devices on all supported platforms, including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, iPadOS, tablets. You can install and activate as many times as you like on all 5 devices. Activation is permanent and lifelong. You can always reinstall or transfer to another device. Cloud storage is not included. The specified login name cannot be changed or merged with a personal account. Microsoft Office 365 includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, and Publisher. This software is multilingual, you can choose your language during installation. Digital Download – Redemption instructions will be emailed to you after purchase.”

First of all, please note that the product is described does not exist. A lifetime license for Microsoft 365 that can be installed on five different computers is not real. While the Microsoft Office site does advertise a version which can be used without a subscription can only be installed on one computer system, not five. Plus, the price tag of that alternate universe version of Microsoft 365 is vastly different from the real Microsoft offering.

I’m still not sure why Microsoft isn’t going after vendors who promote these too-good-to-be-true versions. Maybe it’s because they sound sincere. I do know that users have joked about the complexity of Microsoft licensing for years. It’s so complicated that if you called the company with a licensing question and didn’t get an answer you understood or liked, you could call back and ask again. Chances are you’ll get a completely different answer. If you didn’t like that one, you could call and try answer number three. If two of the three answers were similar, chances are those two were at least mostly correct.

I’m focused on licensing as more and more companies like Microsoft move to subscription models as older versions of their software become obsolete and unsupported. A good example is the Exchange business email platform. On April 11, support for Exchange 2013 will end. And while it will continue run after that date, it is not wise for business use to do this. Many argue that no company should now host email on-premises, opting instead for hosted platforms that can monitor for and defend against attacks. But taking that step also means… switching to a subscription model.

Licenses for all kinds of software that used to be a one-time purchase/use for years have moved to subscription models. Another example is QuickBooks, the small business accounting platform. For years you could buy a version that would work indefinitely, as long as you didn’t use it for payroll. Then came the subscription models. QuickBooks Enterprise moved to an annual subscription several years ago. Now the desktop version of QuickBooks has followed suit. (If you have QuickBooks and don’t use it for payroll, stick with the 2022 versions or earlier. If you move to the 2023 version, you’ll have to pay an annual subscription fee.)

As is often the case, the change in licenses has been accompanied by a change in the features provided by each version. The online version of QuickBooks is actually better than the desktop version right now, especially if you can work from anywhere. But if you do bookkeeping for several companies, it can quickly become expensive to switch to an online subscription for each company.

Licenses and software changes are also coming to Intuit point of sale version from QuickBooks. As Intuit noted, “…the platform on which the software is built is unique, requires complex maintenance, and makes introducing new features very difficult. Therefore, we have decided to discontinue QuickBooks Desktop Point of Sale 19.0 as of October 3, 2023. There will be no future versions of QuickBooks Desktop Point of Sale software, and we will no longer sell QuickBooks Desktop Point of Sale to new customers. . We’re working with Shopify to provide an optional POS solution.” Obviously, Intuit has decided to stop supporting various offerings and change the licenses for them.

Typically, vendors switch to online versions because it’s easier to build a platform that works in a browser than it is to code for the different versions of Windows macOS. It’s also easier to control the wide variety of devices we use now, from computers to tablets to phones, on a cloud-based platform.

And let’s face it, suppliers are moving to subscriptions because what company wouldn’t want a more predictable revenue stream? While you may want to keep using perpetual software, the market is moving in a different direction. So it is important when evaluating online software to stop and review the prices and features. And remember: if the terms seem too good to be true, they usually are too good to be true.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.