At 01:57 AM 11/1/01 +1100, Ian Wilson wrote:
>I can't see anything in the ATS package that is not offered now for free, 
>except the automatic receipt of a new version (as opposed to the service 
>packs).  [...]  So what do we really get that is new with this nigh on 
>$4000 (pacific peso's) annual cost.

I won't say what we get because the language would be inappropriate.... :-)

Seriously, the ATS announcement represents a major departure from how 
Protel has traditionally been sold. While Protel may have no legal 
obligation to continue the upgrade policy, it was a very important selling 

No support charges (for tech support and service packs).
Schedule upgrades when they make sense to you and you can afford them, not 
by a fixed schedule.
Low overall support cost including upgrades. Protel 98 -> Protel 99SE total 
cost $700 - $1500 depending on when you purchased. That's for, what, two 
years has it been?

I don't know where Mr. Wilson got the $4000 cost, I could find no 
anticipated ATS charge on the Protel web site. It might seem that cost is 
not a current issue, but every company which provides maintenance for a fee 
also provides the cost up front, i.e., they might give a period of support 
free (some don't), but you know what to expect. That it is not easy, at 
least, to find the cost is a major problem with the announcement, which is 
long on marketing fluff and short on facts.

If I buy 99SE right now, sure, support for one year. What happens then? How 
much will it cost to continue? If it is US $4000, I'll be looking into 
other options. But the anticipated upgrade cost, based on various comments 
from Protel sources -- who may well not have been authorized, in fact, 
probably were not -- has been $995. $995 per year would be reasonable, it 
would be 12.5% of present pricing. 15% is common in the industry. It would 
be especially reasonable if major service packs and upgrades follow.

Protel may well be planning to offer existing licensees (prior to Oct 1) a 
one-time upgrade price to the next release, which will probably include a 
year of support. If this cost is what we have been expecting, then I, for 
one, will continue to feel that Protel has been loyal to its user base. If 
ATS includes some flexibility as to when renewals are paid, i.e., one is 
not penalized for paying it late, after lapse, and the price is reasonable, 
then the move to an annual support model will be, I'd say, acceptable, and 
if it provides more funding for program improvement, I'm for it.

Service Packs include changes of two kinds: bug fixes and operational 
improvements. Some of the latter may represent the correction of oversights 
and would properly be classified with bug fixes. A new autorouter might be 
an example of an operational improvement, though it could be argued that 
the existing router never did work properly. Bug fix service packs should 
be free, whether one has paid maintenance or not. Improvements quite 
properly can carry a price, it is only reasonable.

The core of what I am saying is that users should not have to pay for 
programmer's mistakes; we would obviously prefer that there be no mistakes, 
no bugs, but selling a buggy program and then expecting users to pay for 
corrections is one of the more sleazy aspects of some segments of the 
software industry. Most software companies, such as Microsoft, do provide 
what amount to free service packs. CAD companies often do not. Protel 
should not join that crowd.

So, I say yes to a properly implemented annual support program, the most 
important part being regular program *improvement,* not just selling us 
what we already were getting "free."

There has been talk at Altium about a user consultative board. It's a good 
idea, and one of its benefits would be that *negotiations* between Altium 
and the users would become possible. While it might seem to some of the 
short-sighted that this would be a colossal nuisance, just as some 
companies consider the organization of labor a problem, the interest of 
users and the company are convergent, as are, in fact, the interests of 
employers and the employees.

As users we need Altium to be successful; Altium's failure would be a 
disaster for us and its stagnation would hobble us. Strong user support -- 
in both directions, from Altium to us and from us to Altium -- is the most 
powerful marketing tool available to Altium. If it takes the opportunity.

I'd suspect that most Protel sales take place because one user convinced 
another, or one user migrated from one company to another and wanted Protel 
to be the new company's software.

Protel, especially, being engineering-focused software largely sold to 
engineers, who are often making their own purchase decisions or have great 
influence on such decisions, has been very well positioned to grow through 
word of mouth and user migration, to the extent that Protel, in the U.S. at 
least, apparently operated with a very low advertising (I don't know the 
numbers, though) and show budget. The latter was zero for a while, yet 
Protel continued to grow. The users sold the program, and I know that this 
is continuing, just as users are providing mutual support which is in most 
cases better than what Protel could possibly provide itself, even with 
charging for it.

Abdulrahman Lomax
Easthampton, Massachusetts USA

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