Microsoft kills Equipt subscription suite

After April 30, users lose ability to create or edit Office docs

Microsoft Corp. yesterday told subscribers to its Equipt bundle of software and services that it will pull the plug April 30, just nine months after it launched the package based on its Office suite.

The move was not unexpected. When Microsoft announced it would dump Windows Live OneCare last November, it said the demise of the consumer security program, which was part of Equipt, meant that the latter would also vanish at some point.

Although Microsoft couched the dropping of OneCare -- and the replacement of it with a free set of security tools sometime this year, as its way of protecting more users -- rivals in the consumer security market said Microsoft couldn't hack it. "It's simply not in Microsoft's DNA to provide high-quality, frequently updated security protection," a Symantec Corp. executive said in November.

Microsoft released Equipt, which had formerly gone by the code name "Albany," last July. Retail sales had been limited to Circuit City, the consumer electronics chain that filed for bankruptcy in November. At the time it launched Equipt, Microsoft said it was restricting retail sales to Circuit City because it was a "complicated value proposition" that required specially trained salespeople to tout the bundle to buyers.

Equipt included Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, Windows Live OneCare, Office Live Workspaces, Windows Live Mail, Live Messenger and Live Photo. All but the first two are free Web-based services. The package was priced at $69.99 for a one-year subscription.

Because of that subscription model, Microsoft will essentially "switch off" much of the software's functionality at the end of April. According to an FAQ posted on Microsoft's site, it will discontinue updates to OneCare at that time, and cripple Office. "After Microsoft Equipt is discontinued, you will still be able to view existing Office documents, but you will not be able to create or edit Office documents," the FAQ stated.

Microsoft will, however, offer a prorated refund to subscribers and provide them with a free copy of Office Home and Student 2007, which they can install on up to three PCs. To receive the refund and the Office installation disc, subscribers must fill out an online form.

The refund and Office CD should arrive four to six weeks after the form is submitted, said Microsoft.

Equipt was billed by Microsoft as a package to give consumers a "core set of services" for their PCs, and by others as the company's answer to the free, online applications popularized by Google Apps. But since Equipt's appearance, Microsoft has announced plans to deliver online versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote when it launches the next edition of Office late this year.

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