Microsoft will begin testing its .NET "software as a service" theory next month, when Europe's easyEverything Internet cafés start offering Microsoft software such as Office 2000, Works 2001, and Encarta 2001 for hourly rentals. The easyEverything chain, which has cafés in such European cities as London, Paris, Madrid, Munich, Amsterdam, and others, will also open its first American café in New York late this month. This is the first time Microsoft has allowed its software to be rented by consumers; in the past, customers would have to buy perpetual licenses that came with shrink-wrapped CDs. The test will help Microsoft gauge how quickly it can move to an annuity, maintenance-oriented business model, a key to its future revenues under the .NET strategy.

The easyEverything test will give users 20 minutes to six hours of use, depending on how busy the café is at the time. In the company's upcoming New York café, which will open November 28 in Times Square, easyEverything will offer 800 thin client terminals, which will be available 24 hours a day, making it the largest Internet café on the planet. In addition to the Microsoft software rentals, the café will offer Internet telephony, Web cams, and other enticements