This is the kind of move that makes Microsoft continue to have a reputation as a bad guy in tech. Every teacher and parent knows that you don't make promises (or threats) that you don't intend to keep because users, students and your children will hold you to them.
Microsoft offered a free custom domain (that web address) for life and hosting space to anyone back in 2006. So, following my explorer's quest to claim my digital space, I took http://ronkowitz.com. I never did much with the site. It required me to use templates and I never did figure out if it was possible for me to upload via FTP my own pages. But I did use it as a "landing page" that, if found, would send folks in the right directions to my other blogs and sites.
A lot of people took advantage of the free offer, particularly small business owners who wanted a web presence. Microsoft's business plan seemed to be clear - give people a free starting place and then sell them additional services as they expanded.
Now, they have notified users that "As of October 1, 2009, Microsoft Office Live Small Business will no longer offer free domain name renewals. We’ve made the decision to begin charging all customers for custom domains to standardize our pricing and bring it in line with our competitors."
It has gotten a lot of digital ink and complaints. So, how does one continue to use the service?
We’ve made a policy change and will start charging customers who signed up [from 2006-2008] the annual domain name renewal fee. Why is Office Live changing its policy on custom domains? The domain renewal fee you are being asked to pay is the same price that all other customers are currently paying. We feel that this price is very competitive in the marketplace, especially given that Office Live Small Business will continue to provide several other free services.
So, if I want to continue to use my ronkowitz.com site and domain, it will require an annual domain renewal fee of $14.95 per year due at the time of the domain renewal date.
Free for life apparently actually means free for the life of the offer.
You can still have a free web site without renewing your custom domain (much like the Geocities and other services from the early days of the web and many blogging platforms of today) but ronkowitz.com would become the http://ronkowitz.web.officelive.com. Your other alternative is to try to move your domain name to a different provider by canceling your custom domain name. Of course, if you move it to some service (like godaddy.com), you will have to pay them. Probably less than the $14.95 Microsoft wants for the domain, but add in hosting and paying even more.
Would you expect Google to start charging for your Gmail, Documents, Blogger blog site or other services? No. If they did, I would expect even great outrage because the services are used more than Microsoft's service. It's one thing to offer a free service with the caveat that there will also be additional premium services for a fee, quite another to offer free for life and then pull it back.