Cory Doctorow’s fantastic and amazingly useful novel Little Brother posits a world where Microsoft has started giving out gaming hardware (a new generation X-Box) for free as a loss leader and makes up the profits on the back end with pay-per-use subscription fees and games. The free and ubiquitous X-Box hardware is uncerimoniously hacked and then becomes the base unit of a vast undernet, allowing the protagonist and others to operate out of sight of the DHS.
Well, first of all the Paranoid Linux distribution that was one of the fictional resources of the book is now in real development.
Now? Microsoft has submitted a patent for a free or subsidized computer system that would make its profits off of a pay-per-use or subscription system.
US patent application number 20080319910, published on Christmas Day 2008, details Microsoft’s vision of a situation where a “standard model” of PC is given away or heavily subsidized by someone in the supply chain. The end user then pays to use the computer, with charges based on both the length of usage time and the performance levels utilized, along with a “one-time charge”.
Microsoft notes in the application that the end user could end up paying more for the computer, compared with the one-off cost entailed in the existing PC business model, but argues the user would benefit by having a PC with an extended “useful life”.
“A computer with scalable performance level components and selectable software and service options has a user interface that allows individual performance levels to be selected,” reads the patent application’s abstract.
“The scalable performance level components may include a processor, memory, graphics controller, etc. Software and services may include word processing, email, browsing, database access, etc. To support a pay-per-use business model, each selectable item may have a cost associated with it, allowing a user to pay for the services actually selected and that presumably correspond to the task or tasks being performed,” the abstract continues.
Integral to Microsoft’s vision is a security module, embedded in the PC, that would effectively lock the PC to a certain supplier.
Sure if such a box ever sees the light of day, it will require some serious hacking. But once upon a time Cable couldn’t be stolen, iPhones and X-Box’s were unhackable, and CDs and DVDs were supposed to be impossible to copy.
Welcome to 2009, where Microsoft is trying their best to see you living in a more fictional world. Also welcome to a world where companies are trying their damnedest to change how you think about the things you posess and who really owns them. Food for thought and fodder for Grinding?