Web Sites Offering Shoppers Free Trials

Article excerpt

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 programs online.

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 director. …

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