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Microsoft Tests 'Albany' Subscription Software Program

The service is meant to bolster the company's presence in the booming Web services market while protecting its multibillion-dollar packaged software franchise.

Microsoft said Friday that it's testing a program through which consumers can sign up to receive the latest versions of its Office software products and security services over the Web for a flat fee.

Consumers who subscribe to the program, code-named Albany, will receive updates for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote as they become available. They'll also gain access to, and receive updates for, Windows Live OneCare, Windows Live Mail, Messenger, and Photo Gallery.

Microsoft Albany product manager Bryson Gordon said in a statement that the program is aimed at consumers who've "expressed frustration at having to spend time and effort installing different types of software, keeping current on new versions, and getting their computers set up."

Microsoft did not provide pricing details for the service or a formal launch date. The beta program is not yet open to the public.

Gordon said Albany is part of the so-called "software-plus-services" strategy that Microsoft unveiled last year. The campaign is meant to bolster the company's presence in the booming Web services market while protecting its multibillion-dollar packaged software franchise.

The effort has seen Microsoft roll out a number of Web services under its Windows Live brand, including an online storage site called SkyDrive, a social networking site called Spaces, and Office Live Workspace --a service that lets users store and access Word and other Office applications on the Web.

Microsoft's assault on the Web is in no small part a response to advances by archrival Google. In recent months, the search engine company has introduced a host of new online services. Of those, the biggest threat to Microsoft is Google Apps. The offering features free or low-cost versions of Office-style productivity applications that are hosted on the Web.

Gordon, however, insisted that Microsoft isn't backing away from selling packaged software through brick-and-mortar stores. "We are definitely not straying from our traditional software sales model," said Gordon. "Albany just gives customers more choice."

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