A Look At the Upcoming OS Family Packs From Apple and Microsoft

Apple_Windows_FamilyPacks

As more and more households have multiple PCs, the idea of a “family pack” (i.e., a piece of software with multiple licenses for use) makes a lot of sense. Since Apple and Microsoft are set to release new versions of their respective operating systems this fall (Apple’s Snow Leopard in September, Microsoft’s Windows 7 in October), let’s look at the family pack available for each.

Microsoft

Microsoft finally ended all rumors of a Windows 7 Family Pack, announcing that there would indeed be such a product:

The Windows 7 Family Pack will be available starting on October 22 until supplies last here in the U.S. and other select markets. In the U.S., the price for the Windows 7 Family Pack will be $149.99 for three Windows 7 Home Premium licenses.

It’s not that paying $150 for three licenses is a bad deal, it’s just that the paragraph above pretty much constitutes the entire announcement, which is bad because…

  • Where is the Family Pack for Professional? What about Ultimate? Sadly, there is no such thing. Why isn’t Microsoft making its other OS editions available in similar “family friendly” offerings?
  • It’s only for a limited time (“until supplies last”). This is a software product on disc that comes with a three-user license, there are no “supplies.” The only thing that can run out is Microsoft’s willingness to provide this value to the consumer.

So Microsoft will thwart consumers who desire Professional or Ultimate by requiring full licenses even if they want to run it on all the PCs in their home. This is practically an engraved invitation to pirate the software.

Further, after some as-yet-unnamed amount of time, the Home Premium deal will be withdrawn. Perhaps this is just a maneuver to juice up early interest and sales for PR purposes, and once they can report large numbers of licenses sold they’ll just end the deal.

Apple

Apple’s upcoming Snow Leopard will be sold in family packs of five licenses for $49. This is a better deal than Microsoft’s in many ways:

  • Obviously, $50 for five license is much better than $150 for three.
  • Unlike Microsoft, Apple doesn’t offer “crippled” editions. Their family pack will consist of the full (“Ultimate”, to use Microsoft’s term) version of Snow Leopard.
  • There is no expiration date on availability.

Aside from its OS, Apple also offers family packs for their iLife and iWork suites that are incredible values.

Conclusion

While I’m not suggesting upgrade pricing alone would be a reason to switch to a Mac, I do believe Apple’s family packs (which are not new) are an impressive, and important, value. I consider them part of the Apple value equation; a computer is a combination of hardware and software, not just one or the other.

I think Apple’s philosophy on family packs is clear. Put simply, they take the sting out of wanting to run multiple licenses for multiple machines. They provide such an excellent value, the consumer has little issue with legitimizing multiple software copies in their home.

For Microsoft, this is new territory. I’m glad to see there was some truth to the earlier rumors, but it all falls short. While the family pack for Windows 7 is a smart move, Microsoft is misguided to limit it to just the “cheap” edition and to make the offer short-term. Indeed, why not encourage people to legitimize multiple copies, and up-sell Professional, by offering a family pack at the high-end? If the goal was to limit piracy, I believe it will have only a minimal impact there.

Nonetheless, if your decision to use Windows 7 is already made, and Home Premium is what you desire, then I’d certainly recommend snapping up the family pack before Microsoft changes its mind.

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