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Microsoft specs out 'pay as you go' PC scheme

Files patent for metering hardware capabilities but admits overall cost 'may be higher'

December 29, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp. last week applied for a patent that spells out a "pay as you go" concept under which users would be charged for both the software they run and the computing horsepower they use.

According to the patent application filed last week with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the "Metered Pay-As-You-Go Computing Experience" scheme would meter software use and access to specific computer hardware. Fees would be charged against a prepaid or billed account.

"The current business model for computer hardware and software relies on a user purchasing a computer with hardware and software that is suited to the most demanding applications that the user expects to encounter," said Microsoft in the application. "Therefore, a user may buy a multi-core processor with a significant amount of memory and advanced video support for gaming applications that are only used on the weekend, while the user's day-in, day-out activities may involve little more than word processing or web-browsing."

Microsoft's plan would instead monitor the machine to track things such as disk storage space, processor cores and memory used, then bill the user for what was consumed during a set period.

"A different business model may allow a more granular approach to hardware and software sales," Microsoft argued. "A computer may have individually metered hardware and software components that a user can select and activate based on current need. When the need is browsing, a low level of performance may be used, and when network-based interactive gaming is the need of the moment, the highest available performance may be made available to the user."

Fees would be lower for low-performance chores, such as writing e-mail or surfing the Internet, and higher for high-performance tasks.

For consumers, Microsoft said, the advantage of such a model would be a lower price at the outset for a powerful PC. Computer makers would gain the ability to standardize on higher-end systems, it added. But the company admitted that the overall cost to the user might be higher than for a standard PC purchase. "Although the cost of ownership over the life of the computer may be higher than that of a one-time purchase, the payments can be deferred and the user can extend the useful life of the computer beyond that of the one-time purchase machine," Microsoft contended.

Key to the concept is something Microsoft called a "security module," embedded either in the hardware or provided as software, that would meter the computer's usage. "To make this model successful, a mechanism must be in place that supports a highly secure method of adjusting performance coupled with a secure, auditable measurement and payment scheme to allow a variety of pre-paid and post-paid mechanisms for capturing and settling highly granular, infinitely adjustable, performance variations," the patent application said.



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