Subscribe or buy – what’s the best model for software?

Here’s a deal: You buy a new car, and during the year you get a new one free. With that business model, car companies would soon go broke. It’s a different matter with computer software. As providers are transitioning to yearly subscriptions, they’re offering free upgrades during the year. Well, they’re not exactly free — you’ve paid for the upgrades in advance.

Then there’s the real puzzler. Do you need those upgrades? Wouldn’t you just like to buy the software upfront and upgrade if you feel the new versions are better than the old?

Here are some of my favorite programs that either offer subscriptions or can be bought outright:

—Quicken. Before they went to a subscription model, I was using a two-year-old version of the financial management software, and it was serving me just fine. The 2018 version, however, had some bells and whistles I like. Starting with the Premier version ($75 a year), priority technical support is included, along with Quicken’s free payment feature. That alone is worth the upgrade. The newest version offers analyses of when to buy or hold securities. A Mac version also offers bill pay along with such features as “what-if” analyses on loan payments.

—Acronis True Image. The excellent backup program has a one-time purchase option for $50. However, the subscription version ($50 a year) offers a free upgrade to the latest ones. New in the 2019 program are ransomware protection, social media backup and improved encryption. A $100 yearly subscription offers a terabyte of cloud backup space; the $50 subscription version offers only 250 gigabytes of online backup. The outright purchase version doesn’t offer any online backup space or phone support. The other levels do offer phone support.

—Corel PaintShop Pro. I’ve come to rely on this excellent photo-editing software for all my (advanced amateur) projects. It has no subscription plans — pay once for between $80 and $100, and the program is yours for as long as you want to use it. Upgrades cost $80.

—Adobe. Pioneers in subscription software, Adobe offers packages that start at $10 a month for Photoshop to $55 for a “creative suite” that includes Illustrator. Its premier pdf program, Acrobat, costs $15 a month. Premier Elements and Photoshop Elements, Adobe’s fine movie and photo editing programs, still can be bought for about $75 each.

—Microsoft. Another pioneer in the subscription service category, Microsoft’s 365 Office Suite, which includes its database, Access, along with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Publisher, costs $100 a year and can be installed on five computers. The charge for one PC is $70 a year. The popular Office Home and Student edition is available without a subscription and costs a flat $150. However, the Home and Student Edition includes only Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. All plans except the direct purchase one include updates.

If having the latest version of the software you use most is important, leasing it makes sense. But for most cases I’m hanging on to the software that I pay for once and can use for years.



Harold Glicken is a retired newspaper editor. He can be reached at and a collection of his columns can be found at

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