Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 10/85 - scanned

NICE LITTLE SOFTWARE EARNERS (column)

Apricot, Olivetti, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard - one after another they are trooping out their 8028 based machines. Never mind the fact the user is incapable of getting to grips with the full power of the 8088 - or even the Z80 machines before that. The fact is that as each new wave of technological development breaks, up come new products to take advantage of that technology. With any luck, reason the manufacturers, owners of out of date systems will feel the urge to upgrade. And if they don't feel the urge, then the sudden switching of attention by the software industry onto the new products will ensure that, sooner or later, the customers will be forced to change.

Now, if customers are so responsive to hardware developments, why the heck don't they respond to the arguably more useful developments in software? What's the point of buying a machine to do a job better and then not buying the software products to exploit that purchase to the full? Is it because a new machine is much like the one it replaced, whereas software requires some effort to learn?

Is it because dealers can't be bothered to learn about new software products until they become, paradoxically, best-sellers? I know an individual who regularly shifts £10,000-worth of business software in a week. His view of the world is simple. He's there to sell as many poundsworth of software as possible and he really doesn't care what it is, as long as he can move it quickly. And the things he shifts most easily are the old favourites: WordStar, Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase.

It annoys me that many more worthy software products don't sell in greater volume, but I can understand the reasons. In this business it's better to be first and/or very noisy than to have quality products.

If you also happen to have a quality product then you are unassailable, and quite rightly too. What peeves me even more is the fact that there are many software products around which can reduce the user's frustrations at using a personal computer and, at the same time, increase his productivity. I'll risk the editor's blue pencil (I was a director of Caxton once) and mention Prokey and Smartkey as good examples of 'keyboard macros'. I use one of them and it means that at the touch of a single key, I can load a comms program, load the parameter file, and enter terminal mode. If I had an autodial modem, I'd be able to call Telecom Gold and enter my identity (83:JNL242 if you ever feel like writing) and password too - all from the one key depression.

These activities are error-prone at the best of times, yet with a keyboard macro they pose no problems at all.

With a product like PC Automator, all your communications work can be done for you. This is more than a keyboard macro program; it can read the screen as well.

You can therefore get it to call up Gold or whatever, enter the ID and password, see if there is any mail, download it, log off, then call up your word processor, load the dumped file, strip it of the usual rubbish and print it out, or write the sanitised version to disk.

The possibilities are endless and it gives you, the dealer, a great opportunity not only to sell more software, but to sell added value by 'programming' Automator to your customer's requirements.

There's more to life though than keyboard macros. What about Sidekick, Spotlight or Memory/Shift? These products, and many more, all help your customers get more out of their personal computers. I know it's easier to simply respond, like an assistant in Woolworth's to whatever the customer asks for. Surely though it's better to ensure that your client gets the best service from you rather than the one which extracts the most profit for the least effort. I suspect that our national culture has taken a turn for the worse over the past few materialistic years.

Many have forgotten about the service side of life and about the quality of their offerings. The emphasis for many people in this business seems to be more on maximising profit than on maximising the customer's value for money. Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in jeopardising a business through an excess of altruism. I just think that many dealers could strike a better balance between the two.

Why not find a small range of useful additional products which will be of genuine benefit to your customers, get to know the products well, and introduce them while you are taking orders for the more popular stuff? Providing you do it in a spirit of helpfulness, then you should not only pick up useful additional business but you will also strengthen the relationship with your client.