Bill Gates has long dreamed of getting his customers to pay by the month, not by the shrinkwrapped box, for his software. As the Microsoft founder gets ready to depart, his company is just barely realizing his vision. But this is Microsoft, so they're doing it in the most asinine manner imaginable. Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft is testing a package of software and services, codenamed "Albany," for which consumers will pay a monthly fee. Sounds promising, until you dig into what Microsoft is actually offering.

Here's Foley's description:

Albany consists of 2007 version of Office Home and Student; Office Live Workspace, Microsoft's collaboration-service complement to Office; Windows Live OneCare, Microsoft's consumer security/backup service; and three Windows Live services — Live Mail, Live messenger and Photo Gallery. The bundle will be delivered via a single installer. When Microsoft releases new versions of any of these software or service components, Albany users will get the latest versions pushed to them automatically for as long as they are paying for the Albany subscription.

So, to review:

  • Office-productivity software that can be had for $119 at, but is likely already installed on a user's computer.
  • A "collaboration" service most home users will have no need for
  • Windows Live OneCare, a PC-security and maintenance service which Microsoft already sells as a subscription
  • Three Web services Microsoft already offers for free

The real object here is to get consumers used to paying something, anything, by the month for Microsoft's software. But why should they? Google Docs is free. For most consumers, Microsoft Office and PC antivirus software might as well be free, since they get it bundled with a new computer, from their employer, or through less proper means.

Microsoft hasn't specified what they'll charge, but lets assume they don't plan to lose money. A discounted copy of Office runs $119; OneCare costs $49.95 a year. Office Live Workspace is in beta, so Microsoft's not charging yet. Still, let's call it $15 a month. I can't see consumers paying that much for a package they mostly already have.

In "Albany," Microsoft has picked a perfect codename: a byword for bureaucratic waste, dysfunction, and corruption. As in New York's capital, someone needs to clean house. And as in New York's capital, it's not going to happen.