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Don’t stop mousing, kids. The meter’s running

Submitted by on Monday, 29 December 2008 One Comment
I've heard of parking by the hour, cell calls by the minute and ...  never mind on that last. I don't want the site to lose its G rating.

But a proposal I saw this weekend on slashdot.com has to be the ultimate hourly gouge: Pay-as-you-go computing, courtesy of Microsoft.

In a patent application published Christmas Day -- I hope Ebenezer shoveled on an extra lump of coal in Redmond in its honor-- the company that would rule the world proposes a "computer with scalable performance level components." Everything from processor to word processing would be on a pay-per-use basis.

It's a "different business model," Microsoft says in the application.

"Each selectable item may have a cost associated with it, allowing a user to pay for the services actually selected and that presumably correspond to the task or tasks being performed," the application said.

A boon for businesses, no doubt. "An administrator may ... set performance levels for each computer in a network, allowing performance and cost to be set according to a user's requirements." Er, Bob you were budgeted for two hours' of Word time this week, but I see you used 2.5 We've found a faster typist and are going to have to let you go."

The Microsoft spin: We buy computers based on our most-demanding tasks -- video editing or heavy-duty gaming, for example -- but we might not need that much computing power all the time. So why not buy what we need only when we need  it?

Except here's the problem. Just like in the days when Internet access was by the hour and cell plans with unlimited minutes were outrageously expensive, it would be easy for the bill to climb quickly.

In an attachment to its patent application, Microsoft prices its "homework module" at $1.15 an  hour. That includes only word processing, graphics and browser software, by the way, so if you need a spreadsheet, photo editor or presentation, you'll need to upgrade. And I know fourth-graders who use PowerPoint for projects.

Let me leap forward a few years, to when the guys will need a computer for homework.

By the time the guys are in fifth grade, I can expect 50 minutes a night five nights a week per kid, according to recent statistics. Realistically, I expect more, because the load in our district seems to be heavier than those national figures. But I'll be conservative.

So that would come to 250 minutes a week times two guys, or 8.33 hours. Multiply that by the "homework module," and I'll spend 9.58 a week, $498 and some change a year.

For that amount, I easily could buy a laptop. Maybe two, by the time I consider what it will cost to also cover their gaming ($1.25 an hour) surfing (80 cents per hour), and general time wasted staring into space while the Microsoft meter is running.

No, the laptop wouldn't be quite as robust as the "pay per click" offering, and neither would it include software. But assuming the guys spend half as much time gaming as they do homework (and that might be the best possible outcome), I can buy Office Home and Student for under $150.

Suddenly, the deal's not sounding like such a deal.

The thing of it is, someone will bit on this, and it's likely to be folks who can least afford it.

Families will be so happy their kids can do homework for "only" $1.15 an hour that they won't catch on at first, just like I never realized how much time I was spending online in the early 90s until the monthly bill arrived. Ouch!

Different business model? No, I think the "rent to own" furniture folks perfected this one long ago. Except those buyers at least actually owned something in the end.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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