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Microsoft Envisions 'Pay-as-You-Go' Computing

Microsoft has issued a patent application, published on Dec. 25, that specifies the metered use of computers. The "Metered Pay-As-You-Go Computing Experience" U.S. patent application partially describes a "metering agent," which seems to constitute the core of Microsoft's claimed invention.

The metering agent will be used to support a business model that delivers computer resources and software to users based on their particular needs of the moment. The enabling factor is an application-specific integrated circuit that will be added to PCs.

"Much of the inventive functionality and many of the inventive principles are best implemented with or in software programs or instructions and integrated circuits (ICs) such as application specific ICs," according to the patent application.

Under this model, users connect via the Internet to a "fulfillment center." The fulfillment center authenticates user traffic and further connects with various service providers and financial institutions to deliver the service.

"To make this model successful, a mechanism must be in place that supports a highly secure method of adjusting performance coupled with a secure, auditable measurement and payment scheme to allow a variety of pre-paid and post-paid mechanisms for capturing and settling highly granular, infinitely adjustable, performance variations," the application explains.

Microsoft's application envisions a series of service bundles as part of this business model. Gaming, which demands greater computer resources, might be priced at "$1.25 per hour." The Office bundle might cost "$1.00 per hour," while the Internet browsing bundle would go for "$0.80 per hour."

The pricing depends on the use of hardware components as well. For instance, the application suggests that "a user may buy a multi-core processor with a significant amount of memory and advanced video support for gaming applications that are used on the weekend" but just pay for word processing and Web browsing during the work week.

The document suggests that the invention might change how hardware and software are sold. For instance, computers might have "individually metered hardware and software components that a user can select and activate based on current need."

This business model may end up costing users more in the long run, but they can defer the short-term costs, the application suggests.

"Although the cost of ownership over the life of the computer may be higher than that of a one-time purchase, the payments can be deferred and the user can extend the useful life of the computer beyond that of the one-time purchase machine," it states.

Microsoft's patent idea seems geared more toward consumer applications, although it isn't exactly described in that way. It may apply also to the enterprise, where Microsoft has already made a splash by announcing its Azure Services Platform.

Microsoft has not yet publicized the business model for the Azure Services Platform, a software-as-a-service play aimed at business users. The platform was announced in October at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference. It's currently accessible at the community technology preview stage.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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