Imagine ordering, receiving and installing new software in the
space of a single coffee break - without leaving your desk.
Sounds improbable but it is happening at a rapidly expanding
band of Web sites that let shoppers buy, pay for and download
The newest entry is retailer Egghead Software, which late last
week opened a "Try Before You Buy" service on its Web site (
http://www.egghead.com/) where shoppers download fully loaded
programs from Microsoft, SunSoft and Starfish Software for a free
15-day test drive before paying for unlimited use of the software.
Egghead joins virtual retailers such as Software.net, Stream,
Internet Shopping Network and Cyberian Outpost that offer what the
industry has dubbed electronic software distribution, or ESD.
Publishers such as Starfish Software and Qualcomm are using ESD
to sell directly to consumers, in the process slashing packaging,
marketing and distributing costs, reducing the time it takes to
unveil new products and augmenting tough-to-get shelf space in
retail computer stores.
Supporters see online software delivery as a signal of the
coming Internet electronic-commerce boom, and picture a time when
most software used at home and in business is distributed online.
But skeptics maintain that day may be long in coming, mainly,
they believe, because consumers are used to buying software on a
floppy disk or CD-ROM with a box and printed manual and don't
easily change shopping habits. What's more, skeptics add, few
established computer retailers have started selling online, and
many software publishers can't or won't bypass established
physical-world distribution channels to sell direct.
Technology researcher International Data Corp. expects sales of
electronically delivered software to reach $4.6 billion by 2000
from next to nothing today. Even so, that will represent only 5
percent of all software sales.
Most of that will be sales to businesses because the
limitations of current Internet technology make downloading
software tedious, said Stephen Baker, an IDC senior analyst.
"If you want a full copy of Doom, it would be faster to drive
to CompUSA, buy it and come home because downloading thousands of
megabytes of information and pictures and graphics on the 28.8
(kilobytes per second) modems most people use today would take a
long time," Baker said.
Still, retailers and publishers that offer instant software
delivery love it, and say their customers do, too.
"It's been absolutely phenomenal. It's changed our entire
marketing strategy," said Beth Nagengast, Starfish's marketing