TECH TALK: Subscription-based software getting harder and harder to avoid

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First Posted: 5/13/2013

It’s pretty well-known that when you buy a new computer program – Microsoft Office, for example – you’re not actually buying the software itself; you’re just buying a license to use the software. It has been that way for a long time, and since you could use the program for as long as you wanted, it didn’t much matter. It was basically yours, for all intents and purposes.

A short while back, Microsoft changed that with Office 365, a cloud-based version of Office for which users are charged $9.99 per month, or $99.99 a year.

The upside is that it’s always up-to-date, and for a lot of people, the $10/month or $100/year doesn’t hurt as much as shelling out what they used to charge you for discs you could keep. The downside is that you need to keep paying them, and if your computer gets a little long in the tooth, you might not be able to use the software without upgrading.

There are a ton of nice features in Office 365, and having used it at work, it’s certainly very nice to have all of your documents at your fingertips no matter where you go.

But it seems…wrong somehow.

Well, now Adobe, maker of the extremely popular (not to mention expensive) Photoshop and its associated “Creative Suite,” is getting in the game with a new platform called “Creative Cloud.” They’re charging users between $20 and $70 per month for the privilege of using their software, which can retail for more than $600.

Also included in the monthly fee is up to 20 gigs of cloud storage, free website hosting, and file conversion.

Fair enough – $70 a month is easier to afford than over $600. And it might make people who would otherwise pirate their software (Photoshop happens to be one of the most pirated programs in existence) think seriously about purchasing a subscription and using the software on an as-needed basis.

I can easily see how the trend of a subscription model could be more convenient for everyone – people, businesses, and software manufacturers.

You pay as you need it. It’s easier to afford a monthly rate, and the software is always the latest and greatest out there.

But the downside: It’s a whole lot like credit card debt – cheaper up front, a lot more expensive in the long run. To put it another way, I’d rather be stung by a bee than catch Lyme disease from a bug I never noticed.

For now, both Microsoft and Adobe still offer traditional versions of their software, so if you’re not interested in subscribing to their services, you don’t have to. But it seems to make an awful lot of sense for them to go to a subscription-only model in the near future.

Lease a car, rent a house, subscribe to software. If things keep going the way they are, pretty soon no one will own much of anything.

-Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. E-mail him at