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Subscription services: The grift that keeps on grifting

The modern software landscape, and even the hardware landscape, has been shifting toward subscription services for some time now, as opposed to the tried-and-true "one-off purchase" model we've had for the majority of software development's history. That is to say, instead of paying a set fee and then dealing with the consequences (and any outstanding bugs) until they put the next major version out, you pay a regular low fee, either monthly or yearly, and get the most recent version on your computer, at all times. This shifts the perception of software from something you own, to something which you are licensed to be able to use.

Software companies love this because it makes revenue reliable, which makes business planning solid. They also charge far more overall using this model than when they do one-off purchases. Unfortunately there are little-to-no advantages for the consumer. Yes, you get an up-to-date version of the specific software all the time, but too often it feels like you're being used as a tester for not-quite-finished goods at a greater cost.

When software companies gave one-off purchases, it was easier to gauge the quality of the software - either it was buggy or it was fine, and if buggy, would get bad reviews or patch updates. But how does one review a product which is constantly changing? And subsequently how do we as consumers form an opinion on said software? Also, what happens when you don't have access to the internet? Or when the company goes under, and their activation servers with it? You're not so much buying a product as you are buying a service which lasts as long as the company stays alive. Not a great place to be in.

And now there are hardware companies trying to get in on the act. HP recently revealed they want to long-term shift 100% to a subscription-based service for their printers - ink delivery + customer support. At this point, if you don't use the cartridges within their predetermined lifetime for many HP printers, they expire even if they're full. Not a good look.

The best solution to the situation is to vote with your wallet, and avoid subscription services entirely. Avoid HP in particular, and avoid Microsoft Office if you can, but if you can't, buy their one-off licenses (dutifully absent from their website front pages, but still clearly available). Use competitor or open-source products where available, or buy older licenses that don't force constant payment. Otherwise, the grifters keep on grifting.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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