Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

From Boxed Software to Cloud Services

_DSC0788Everyone wants to sell services now. Software companies that were once shipping boxed software now prefer to sell you a cloud subscription service. While at one time you could “own” a boxed software package, or at least own the right to perpetual use, the big software companies now rather you pay perpetually for continued use of their software.

The subscription model is good business for the software companies, obviously, because it ensures a steady and continuous revenue stream. End-users, however, are understandably less excited about a pay-forever scheme.

Consider this. In the past, you paid a one time fee to get to use a software in perpetuity. You may even get it as a digital download instead of an actual physical boxed package. The cloud plans give you the same software, downloaded in the exact same way. However, you’ve got to keep paying to use it on a month to month or year to year basis.

So, are cloud plans bad for users?

It’s complicated. One reason is that there are often no direct apples and apples comparisons. Cloud plans offer latest software versions (i.e. major version upgrades), which you don’t if you bought a boxed copy. For example, you don’t get a free upgrade to Office for Mac 2011 with the purchase of Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. Sometimes the cloud plans offer different feature set from the boxed software, or a reduced feature set that is a better fit for your needs.

Let’s look at an example. I paid S$139 for Adobe Creative Suite 6 Student and Teacher Edition. It’s a great bargain. If I had to go with the Creative Cloud complete package, I’d have to pay S$312 per year, and that’s only for the first year. Subsequent years of the complete Creative Cloud access will cost S$792 per year. Wow. Really astounding cost! This is definitely not good for me.

However, without academic discount, Creative Suite 6 costs almost S$3K! Now, that’s enough to pay over 3 years of Creative Cloud subscriptions. Assuming that there’ll be a major version upgrade within that time, and that you’ll want that upgrade, the cloud plan suddenly makes more sense. However, if you’re going to stay with Creative Suite 6 for 5 years, then the cloud plan isn’t so attractive.

Adobe throws in a twist. You see, most people don’t need the entire Creative Suite. Perhaps it’s just Photoshop and Lightroom that they want. If that’s the case, the Creative Cloud Photography Plan includes both those software titles for just S$156 per year. The two software titles, purchased individually, cost about S$132 and $193 respectively. That’s about two years of cloud subscription. Now, which would you choose?

If you find it a tough choice, that’s good, because it means that Creative Cloud does offer a competitive proposition.

Cloud software plan usually sell you the benefit of always receiving the latest software version. They may not be updated as frequently as web-based software, where developers can easily push updates every week or so. But you wouldn’t worry about having bought a particular Office for Mac 2011, for example, and get stuck with it for many years.

Like it or not, cloud services are here to stay. Paying rent for using software is but just one of the many services that you’ll have to do. Some people are already paying for cloud storage, photo storage, and cloud backup. Others may be paying for domain names (technically it’s also a cloud sort of service), virtual machine instances or some sort of web hosting services. You might pay for VPN service, so that you can access streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, which you also have to pay for.

Everything seems to be coming down to a pay-as-you-go model. So it’s not surprising that software companies that used to ship boxed software packages also want in this lucrative business. For consumers, if you’re one of those clinging on to the pay-once-and-own-it-forever mindset, unfortunately resistance is futile. You might as well give in and start embracing the new world of cloud software services.

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