Barney's Rubble

Cloudy Cloud Costs

Hang on to your wallets -- Microsoft's lineup of online services probably won't come free.

In the late '70s and '80s cable TV snuck into our lives through gentle enticement. A few bucks a month and you got a clean signal and MTV. For a few dollars more, you could go for HBO with real movies and no commercials.

Next we needed cell phones. Another monthly expense. Once we were all hooked on basic voice, we got roped into paying a bit extra to text, e-mail, surf the Internet and download music.

More recently, Sirius and XM have been trying to get us to pay for radio. Radio!? And of course our iPods and Zunes (you do have a Zune, don't you?) are often complemented by music subscriptions -- just another $15 a month.

I added up my bills and here's how much I give each month to service providers. I have a regular house and a summerhouse. I pay $600 a month for three phone lines, two sets of cable TV service, one cell phone, one Blackberry with Internet access and two sets of broadband Internet access plans. I could buy a mansion in Nebraska or lease a Jaguar in Massachusetts for that kind of dough. And that doesn't include my kids' or spouse's cell phones.

Redmond readers spend about half what I do, but $300 is still a decent car payment. A few smart folks wrote me and said they have no cable, no Internet and no cell phone. They are my new heroes.

Now Microsoft wants in on this monthly gravy. Redmond has had OneCare, a subscription security service, for a couple of years. Now, with its new Albany project, Microsoft is offering more. Currently in beta, subscribers get Office and offline storage in addition to virus and hacker prevention.

Microsoft is working on a range of other services, whether pure Web services like Hotmail, Software plus Services where the services add value to software already on your hard drive or Live Mesh, an all-new approach to Web services, data sharing and synchronization.

There's no word as to price. If these services are dang cheap, that's good. But don't forget, cable TV didn't start at $100-plus bucks a month. The price just crept up before we could stop it.

And if Microsoft's new online services are to be free, they have to be surrounded by ads. In some places, this is OK. But imagine trying to write a report or edit a spreadsheet while being pummeled by car and beer ads?

As for me, I'm shifting to more bundled services, though I'm finding these have hidden and escalating costs as well. As for Web services, I have enough software installed on my hard drive to last a lifetime.

How do you keep your costs down? Toss out your TV and read a book? Steal your neighbors' wireless?

Send your saving tips to me at [email protected] and I'll pass 'em along.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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