It is no secret that Carter's software-as-loss-leader worldview is shared by MIcrosoft's top brass. This year at the Worldwide Partner Conference, where Microsoft resellers from more than 160 countries descended upon Houston to get the straight dope from then-retiring CEO Steve Ballmer, the new "software ain't worth what it used to be" mantra was clear. "About a year ago in our annual report, we talked about the move from being a software company," said Ballmer in the event keynote, "to a devices and services company."
Some Microsoft watchers point out that Redmond is merely doing the right thing with its limited, no-cost software model. "Giving away the service to some nonprofits and schools is a charitable act," Richard Hay, owner and editor of online Windows research blog WindowsObserver.com wrote to me in an email. "This is not going to cause them to lose the big contracts." But Carter is certain that in today's bare knuckles, Web software business, charging for software will be a luxury of a bygone era. "When I was at Booz, we were responsible for getting our clients," she explained. "So when you got something like Office 365 for free to go get some new customers, you went and got them before someone else did." Carter says that businesses such as hers -- built from the ground up to be lean enough to compete in a no-cost software world -- will pose a serious challenge to traditional software resellers. The new pricing model "does burn the businesses set up to sell software," she explained. "But I got in on the cloud. I am used to this model." "I see no shortage of opportunities."