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Microsoft eases software rentals

Its software suite makes it easier for software developers, ISPs, Web storefront hosting services, and other service providers to rent applications.

In a bid to boost the short-term rentals of software over the Net, Microsoft has released a new version of its software for ISPs and phone carriers offering Internet access, email, and Web hosting.

Microsoft Commercial Internet System also carries Microsoft's first "annuity pricing," collecting a monthly fee of 50 cents per subscriber, based on how many individuals use a Microsoft intranet or extranet application.

Announced in May, MCIS 2.0 also represents Microsoft's effort to move ISPs onto its Windows NT operating system from the Unix machines most U.S. ISPs now use.

The software suite, part of Microsoft's Back Office family, makes it easier for software developers, ISPs, Web storefront hosting services, and other service providers to rent applications for limited periods of time.

"We've put some level of infrastructure into MCIS that lets us do rented applications," said Microsoft product manager Murari Narayan. Indeed, Microsoft has developed a template for a collaborative application that ISPs can adapt and rent out to users. A demo is available on the company's Web site

IBM's collaborative application, Lotus Notes, is the one most commonly rented today by ISPs like GTE Internetworking, Netcom, Interliant, and US West Interprise. Intuit earlier this year let taxpayers with simple returns rent its TurboTax software to prepare their tax returns.

Microsoft's MCIS lets users select what application they want to rent, then automates the process for giving them access to that software, thus saving time and money for ISPs and other application hosting services. Narayan claims MCIS provides today's most sophisticated platform for rentable applications, although IBM has a similar offering.

To do that, the MCIS relies on software developers creating a COM object, a Microsoft technology, to interact with MCIS.

Among the software firms developing applications on MCIS are Open Port Technology, an Internet fax company; Portal, which markets billing software for ISPs; and Inverse Network Technology, which gauges service quality for outsourced virtual private networks, e-commerce, and remote access.

MCIS 2.0 includes Microsoft's e-commerce software, called Site Server, Commerce Edition 3.0, plus tools and software for email, Web hosting, communication, chat, and managed network services.

MCIS is available, for the first time, via Microsoft's authorized resellers. French, German, and Japanese versions are due by year's end.

Licensing data is available on Microsoft's Web site. Promotional pricing is available until January 31.

Standard retail pricing is $6,000 for an MCIS 2.0 Server, plus a license for Windows NT Server 4.0. A five-pack for five Web sites without e-commerce capabilities is $500, with a commerce-enabled license for five sites at $1,250.

For intranet and extranet applications, ISPs and hosting services pay an additional 50 cents a month per subscriber. Upgrades from MCIS 1.0 are $3,000 or less, depending on components, plus charges for multiple hosted Web sites and users.