Microsoft is today announcing a utility-like computing service for PCs, called FlexGo, aimed at providing poor people with a low-cost means of getting a computer. The service essentially applies the model of pay-as-you-go mobile phone service to the personal computer. A service provider, such as a retailer or a telephone company or even a bank, offers customers a PC for free or at a sharp discount and then charges a fee based on the customer’s actual usage, either through monthly billings or prepaid cards. The idea is to provide people who lack cash and credit a new way to get a PC, PC software, and internet service. As Slashdot notes, it’s a kind of time-sharing system applied to personal computing. It’s not a new idea – companies like SimDesk have been offering a similar model for some time – but it should get a significant boost with Microsoft’s power behind it.
This is, of course, Microsoft’s counterstrike against efforts, such as the $100 PC developed by MIT and supported by Google, to supply cheap computing through specialized, low-cost PCs that run open source software. The advantage of the FlexGo program is that it gives people access to the broad range of Windows-compatible software that already exists. As Tim Bajarin says in a Mercury News piece, “even in poor villages, the kids know the difference between a machine that will get them Internet access and a true PC that they can play games on.” The contest between the two very different models should be an interesting one.