/ Technology

Would you pay to rent your PC software?

Adobe Creative Cloud logo

Pity the poor software manufacturers of this world – they’re clearly scratching their heads and trying to figure out how on earth to make money these days. Do you buy software, or do you stick to the free stuff?

I have some sympathy for them. There was a time when, if you needed a piece of software, you put your jacket on, headed to the shops, and came back £50 lighter with a boxed CD to install. Not so these days.

I don’t remember the last time I paid for software on my computer – I’m a firm believer in well-chosen free downloads. No trudging to the shops, no parting with my cash – downloaded and installed on my PC in the time it takes to brew a cuppa.

Photoshop? Forget about it, I use Pixlr for free. Pay for security software? Why would I, when there are brands like Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG and Malwarebytes watching your back free of charge.

Changing the pay structure

In a bid to entice customers to part with their money, software manufacturers are changing the rules of the game. Microsoft recently announced what is, in my opinion, an appallingly bad deal for its Office 2013 suite. You can pay £109 for a bundle of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote that’s good for installation on just one PC. Not so tempting.

So alongside this, Microsoft unveiled the subscription plan for Office 365. For £79 a year, you can install Office on up to five devices, gain extra components like Outlook, 60mins of international Skype calls a month and 20GB of online storage.

On top of this, Adobe has just announced that its Creative Cloud suite will go subscription-only from now on, with fees as high as £70 a month if you only pay one month to the next. To just go for the latest version of Photoshop CC, it’ll be £17 a month. This decision has led to a petition, with 4,000 signatures in just a few days, asking for Adobe to reverse its move to a subscription-only model.

Appy customers

The whole software landscape has been changed by the rise and rise of tablet and smartphone apps. Free or absurdly-cheap apps have been designed for virtually any task you can think of, from photo editing to word processing to remarkably well-designed gaming.

With a new generation of computer users being raised to believe that the value of software lies somewhere between 69p and free, where does this leave the software designers of old? In the stone age, if they’re not careful.

The Adobe Creative Cloud suite will be tailored for design and media professionals who are now forced into the subscription model if they want the latest tools at their disposal. But as for Microsoft Office? I’d say the days of people believing they should have to part with hundreds of pounds just to type a Word document are well and truly numbered.


It looks as if I will be using Adobe CS4 for a few years longer. Though I have a lot of respect for their products I think they are pricing themselves out of the market, except for professional use. Someone is going to come along with a well integrated software suite that is nearly as good for the enthusiastic amateur, but costs a lot less.

richard says:
11 May 2013

I have always paid for the software I use regularly – either by one off donation or by buying it outright – It is the way to PAY BACK the writers for their efforts – Why should we expect the software for free – as so many do?????

So true, I am with you all the way there!

An advantage of renting software is that you will have the latest version. As long as prices are sensible, that will be fine for most people, most of the time.

Having the latest software is no help if you need to use old software to open files. I was recently asked for information by a former research student who left in the late 90s. I could not open the relevant files on a modern computer and had to go back to an old laptop computer and software that I had not used for years. I am currently doing an update on a guide book that I compiled in 2003 and have had to go back to an old desktop computer and software to deal with that. I hold on to old computers specifically to allow me to use old files created in old software. Where I have known that I will be reusing material, I transfer the files to my current computers and software, but that is not worthwhile doing with every file.

Software rental could be a great problem for amateur historians.

It is more of a problem to find working hardware to run the old software on, than to find the old software. Same problem with videotape.

richard says:
11 May 2013

Can only say – every single piece of my hardware still (since 1980) works except for a hard disk and a strip of memory which as I made a backup as is required was not a problem – the actual machines still work perfectly.
My latest word processing (dtp) software will still open and operate (though only with the original facilities) the very first original files from earlier versions – even early macros – Called good software. .

Richard – Can you tell me which DTP software you are using. It’s good that it opens old files.

Like you, I have not had any problems with hardware, unless you count a hinge on a laptop that broke some time after I had dropped it. At work I was not quite so fortunate.

Yes, if there is a particular project I need to do, renting can be a good option.

I have a few boxed pieces of software I only ever used once gathering dust. Of course, these are mostly professional purchases, not for personal use, but just in terms of waste generation, renting appeals over purchase if the price is right.

No one is going to buy software at give-away prices if their business depends on it. They need reassurance that their software is going to be backed up by support and be developed to take account of new hardware and operating system software for at least 10 years. For a large enterprise, the cost of change usually far outweighs the cost of software. Many companies are still running Windows XP, Office 2003, etc., not because they cannot afford the latest bells and whistles, but because the cost of changing 1000’s of PCs over without major disruption is so high.

Purchase and maintenance or rental are alternative pricing models that have been around since the 1960s. Large systems commercial software is usually rented on a yearly basis. Once your license expires you have no right to use the software unless you renew. Other software is sold – in contractual terms “a perpetual license” – i.e. you can run it as long as you are able to, but without a maintenance agreement that time is going to be serverly limited by evolution of hardware and software systems, or external events like the “millenium bug”.

Nearly all the decent personal software on sale has evolved from products developed for commercial use, so I doubt the major developers are holding their breath to see where a 16 year-old tablet jockey is going to spend their next 69p.

The niche players will, of course, have to rethink their business models as the market evolves, just as they have always had to do to stay in business. The list of defunct software and software developers is a very long one.

I believe that Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP next year, so companies and other organisations will need to plan for this. Of course, this is not relevant to home use.

The lead article sets out three alternatives for acquiring software – pay for a boxed set/download, use cheap/freeware, or rental.

This completely ignores the most popular method – piracy. Most software in use throughout the world is pirated, so the software manufacturer never sees a penny of revenue for the use of their software from the majority of its users.

Rental-only software based on a cloud computing model has the benefit that the software developers keep control of their most precious asset, and only those who have paid and are authorised to access it can use it.

This is most likely what is driving companies like Adobe to withdraw their high value products from sale and offer them on a subscription only basis.

It is hard on people who are prepared to pay for software but save money buy continuing to use obsolete versions. I know many people who are still using paid versions of Office 2003 because they cannot justify the expense of upgrading.

I use Adobe software for charity work. I’m not up-to-date but charities could buy it at educational prices. I’ve paid for some software myself because I’m embarrassed to claim large expenses from the charity. The only reason I’m using expensive software is that I’ve used it for many years when I was working.

There is no way that me or my charity can afford to rent Adobe software, so expect to switch to free or shareware software (which I would pay for) when I need to move on. I don’t need Photoshop (though I don’t know anything else that will do batch processing) but it will be a disappointment to switch from what I have become familiar with over nearly 20 years. It’s probably time to switch from Dreamweaver to a content management system. Switching from InDesign could be the biggest problem because printers like this or Quark, which is even more expensive.

The only free software, I use – apart from MS essentials- and should contribute towards is Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird. My browsing and emailing would be much more difficult if I did not use them. Similar to Patrick and his microwave dilemma, I tried using the alternatives for about a month after I bought my laptop but soon gave in and downloaded them. How much should I donate ???

Almost all the software I use came pre-installed on my laptop. I have not done any photo editing recently but expect to find suitable free software for this when I’m ready. It seems greedy that office 2013 would cost £109 for one machine when many home users have a PC and a laptop.

Anon the mouse says:
15 May 2013

The more important aspect to a subscription model such as this is the EU ruling on software licences. If you pay outright for it then you have a legal right to sell it on as you choose, complete with licence key. (see http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9228762/EU_court_rules_resale_of_used_software_licenses_is_legal_even_online )
Moving to a Subscription model neatly sidesteps the whole argument as you are merely “renting” the software you no longer have a legally transferable licence as you no longer own the software in any form. There is no second-hand market and the EU ruling can just be ignored as it’s now a subscription service.

Peter Morgan says:
13 October 2013

I can see how the switch to subscription may be seen as a benefit for the supplier, but in most cases, buying was actually only ever buying a licence to use, and (in theory) should never have remained on the computer if that was passed on or sold by the original user.

However, many s/h systems will have been bought and sold on Ebay, Gumtree and via other means and what software is installed is generally going to be working even if the licence originally prohibited transfers.

I certainly won’t pay a subscription fee each year. I use linux, Apple OSX, and Windows systems and regularly use open source software. In the case of various Apple iMac systems (all bought s/h because of the extortionate cost of new Apple gear, whatever it is) some had software installed, such as Microsoft’s Office for Mac suite. Should keep me going for the next 10 years!

greeves250 says:
13 December 2013

not on your life!!!!