Prepare Ye to Pay For MS Office Beta

Sometimes, it’s possible to be too popular, especially when it comes to big beta downloads.

That helps explain why Microsoft will charge $1.50 for anyone wishing to download Office 2007 beta 2, starting this Wednesday.

The company said the buck-fifty is a way to make up for the costs of bandwidth. The fee change is arriving somewhat late in the beta cycle; Office 2007 beta 2 has been out since June, followed by a refresh.

So it’s not likely that Microsoft  will see numbers close to the three million who have already downloaded the beta.

Current beta testers who have already registered with Microsoft to test the software will not be charged if they download future refreshes. Microsoft said this charge is for new entrants into the beta program only.

In a statement to explain the move, Microsoft said, in part, that “given how dramatically the beta 2 downloads have exceeded our goals, we have made the business decision to implement a cost recovery measure for downloading the beta.”

The charge will not affect the online test drive, which allows people to use the Office 2007 release without having to download the product.

Rob Helm, director of research for Directions on Microsoft, said Microsoft has typically charged for betas on physical media, since they have to be stamped onto a disc and mailed. But not for a download; he sees a method in this move.

“In the future, I think Microsoft hopes for other commerce opportunities around Office,” he said. “Microsoft has devoted an awful lot of work to building up Office on its Website, like templates. This might be a trial balloon to see if they have the infrastructure that an Office template service might require.”

Microsoft said the charge was to make up for the load on its bandwidth and servers. With three million downloads and the Office 2007 beta weighing in 550MB is size, that’s a hefty toll even for Microsoft, which posted a $12 billion profit in the past fiscal year. Still, Helms said he sees Microsoft’s point.

“This is a major beta with millions of customers,” he said. “So I can see if it’s costing them $1.50 a download, which is not unreasonable, that’s a lot of money, even to Microsoft.”

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