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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 August 2007, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Microsoft launches pay-as-you-go Office
Bill Gates
Microsoft founder Bill Gates wants to get more people using computers
Software giant Microsoft has begun renting its Office productivity suite to users in South Africa so that they are able to run the package without buying it.

Instead of purchasing it, the user are able to rent the software on a pre-pay basis. It is one of a number of ways Microsoft is experimenting with charging users for its applications.

The pre-pay edition was launched earlier this month. Cyril Belikoff, of Microsoft South Africa, told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme that the plan is part of company founder Bill Gates' vision to get more people in the developing world to use computers.

"There are probably about one billion personal computers in use today - however, if you look more broader than that, there are about five billion who are not using this type of technology," he said.

Simple model

In South Africa, the latest edition of Microsoft Office retails at a price of more than $700 - far beyond the reach of most PC users there, and many small businesses.

Microsoft instead allows its software to be rented, by paying $30 per month.

Mr Belikoff said that the idea came from the business model of pay-as-you-go mobile phones.

Microsoft Office
The end user doesn't really want to pirate software, and in some cases they don't even know they're pirating software
Cyril Belikoff, Microsoft Office
"Seventy percent of the global [mobile phone] market is pre-paid, but in South Africa it's probably 90% plus," he said.

"So explaining to customers what pre-paid is wasn't really required. It's such a simple model to adopt."

However, with many South Africans already using a pirated version of Office, others are sceptical as to how successful the rent idea is likely to prove.

Jaxon Rice, a web developer at Soup Consulting in Johannesburg, said that while South Africa's piracy problem is not as bad as that in China or Brazil, it still presents significant problems.

"It's very rare to find all offices totally compliant in running fully licensed Microsoft software," he added.

But Mr Belikoff said he believed those currently using pirated versions would take the rent plan as a chance to acquire legitimate software.

"The end user doesn't really want to pirate software, and in some cases they don't even know they're pirating software," he said.

"If they can afford it, they're happy to pay for it."

Copies for the street

Meanwhile, piracy may not be the only thing driving Microsoft to a pay-as-you-go plan.

Recently, there has been an increase in the use of open source software in South Africa, with many seeing it as a way to save money and develop home-grown software.

Hilton Theunissen, director of TuXlab - which promotes the use of open-source software in South African schools - is testing special vending machines in shopping centres around the country at which open-source software can be bought for the price of a blank CD.

"You simply pop in the CD that you've bought from a shop or wherever, and less than five minutes later you walk away with over 890 applications," he said.

"It's yours, and you can make a copy for the whole street."

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