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Office subscription service ready to go

Circuit City will be the first to offer the $69 per-year service, which bundles Office Home and Student and Microsoft's OneCare antivirus software.

Equipt welcome screen
The welcome screen for the new Equipt offering lists the products and services available.

If you are looking for "Albany," you might want to try heading to Circuit City.

Microsoft on Wednesday announced that Circuit City will be the first to offer a new Office subscription service, first known by its Albany code name and now dubbed Equipt.

The idea behind the subscription service is to convert more new PC buyers into Office buyers. It plays on the fact that although most people don't buy Office at the same time as a computer, many do purchase a security software subscription.

Microsoft is trying to tap into the fact that while many people would rather find a copy of Office that they don't have to pay for (either an older version or a pirated copy) they are willing to pay for security software. "Security is basically the No. 1 thing that gets attached with a PC," said Microsoft group product manager Bryson Gordon.

Equipt bundles a subscription version of Office Home and Student with Microsoft's OneCare antivirus product for $69 a year--just $20 more than the suggested price of OneCare alone.

Equipt subscriber center
On the main page of the Equipt subscriber center, users can see their subscription status and make changes to their account. Microsoft

Gordon said some less sophisticated users think they are getting a copy of Office as part of their PC purchase and are disappointed when they come home and find only a trial version of Office. "That's when a lot of folks will start digging through the drawer for (an old copy)."

Although Equipt is starting out at Circuit City, the deal is nonexclusive and Gordon sees options to go beyond stores and beyond the U.S. Gordon said Microsoft expects to expand to other retailers later in the year and eventually to offer it through other means, such as through computer makers or over the Web.

In addition to placing Equipt on retail shelves, Microsoft is also looking for it to be installed by so-called tech benches, the generic name for things like Best Buy's Geek Squad.

Also, for now at least, there is no way to upgrade from a OneCare subscription to Equipt, though Gordon said that may be in the cards.

"It makes a lot of sense so it's something you will likely see," he said.

I was curious just how Microsoft accounts for the revenue it expects to get from Equipt--i.e., how much gets counted toward Office and how much toward OneCare. Gordon wouldn't say, other than to indicate it would be wrong to think that the Office unit only gets the $20 difference between Equipt and OneCare.

Gordon said the company's research indicates that those who opt for Equipt will be people who would not otherwise buy Office, but added "we are going to keep a very close watch on cannibalization metrics."