At 07:03 PM 12/11/01 -0500, Brian Guralnick wrote:
>     I would consider the ATS total support program if, 100% of the 
> support fee, since
>the first payment, went towards the purchase price of the next newer major 
>of Protel without any other incurred costs.

ATS support includes what were formerly upgrade charges. My only problem 
with ATS is that it has effectively doubled or tripled maintenance charges 
from prior levels, if the price is as announced.

I had an extensive discussion with an Altium employee, Matt Clark (sp?), 
who insisted that a $1995 annual cost for ATS was quite reasonable. He may 
be correct if the full price for Phoenix when it is released is $10,000, 
though, even then, $1495 would be closer to what I understand to be 
industry practice, and Protel has always been *better* than industry practice.

The reasonableness of the full price may be another matter. We'll have to 

Mr. Clark emphasized that the burden of providing support for ancient 
versions of Protel was diverting resources from program development, and 
that with the ATS program, Altium would no longer be obligated to provide 
support without receiving corresponding revenue.

I asked him if Altium considered itself obligated to provide such continued 
support, in light of the representation, at the time of issuance of the 
software, that support was included in the purchase price at no additional 
charge. He replied that apparently the company lawyers had considered that 
there was no continued obligation. I agreed with this (as a legal 
possibility), but pointed out that dropping such support was therefore not 
a reason for converting to a maintenance fee system. Altium could simply 
drop the older-version support at a certain point.

Better, however, Altium could replace support by its personal staff, which 
is expensive, with user-based support, which would be very cheap. We 
already provide better support anyway. By facilitating user support, Altium 
would be fulfilling its implied contract with the users of older versions, 
for that contract does not specify or determine the means by which support 
is to be provided.

Given that Altium will be saving what was alleged to be a considerable sum 
of money by not providing support for older versions, further, a large 
increase in de facto maintenance costs would not seem to be justified. 
Certainly, if development expenditures are greatly increased, if the 
issuance and depth of service packs is improved, increased maintenance fees 
would be reasonable.

Now, Protel has always charged for what other companies call "maintenance," 
at least for the core of it, which is upgrade. But the Protel system 
essentially required the company to earn upgrade dollars by issuing 
upgrades perceived by the users to be significant improvements in the 
program. Paid-in-advance maintenance, however, disconnects performance from 
revenue. The situation is not as disconnected as it might seem, however, 
because if users do not see continued value from their ATS dollars, they 
will not renew it.

Incidentally, if there are any P98 users reading this, now, with the 20% 
sale, is probably a very good time to upgrade to 99SE. It is likely that 
the upgrade price will increase soon; this logic follows from the fact that 
the upgrade price for P98 is the same as the asserted maintenance price 
that all users will pay even if they are 99SE licensees at the present 
time. When I pointed out to Mr Clark that this devalued 99SE licenses 
(those issued before Oct 1), he was quick to note that those who upgrade 
now to 99SE will have an earlier expiration date on their ATS, whereas 99SE 
licensees will only pay ATS when Phoenix is available, plus they had the 
use of 99SE for longer.

At $1595, P98 upgrade is only $100 more than it was before the July 1 price 
increase, *and this now includes ATS for one year, i.e., Phoenix is 
included.* Don't wait, borrow the money if you have to!

Likewise 16-bit users can upgrade at $3195, which is only $200 more than 
the pre-July 1 price, plus it also includes ATS. Since already-existing 
99SE users may pay $1995 for ATS in order to get Phoenix, it only costs 
$1200 to catch up. It has not been that cheap for a long time. Autotrax 
licensees are the real winners in this.

Of course, if you are not using the software to make a living or a profit, 
even these relatively low prices are too high.... but for the die-hard 
legacy users, I really recommend taking a serious look at upgrading this month.

Right now, because of uncertainty in future pricing and ATS/upgrade costs, 
plus the current 20%-off sale, the second-hand license market is dead in 
the water. Second-hand 99SE licenses were selling a bit below 25% off fresh 
licenses, say about $5500 - $6000 but because a current full license from 
Protel is now $6395, and ATS could be $1995, parity for a second-hand 
license would now be $4400. I'd been about to pay $4500 for a 99SE license 
to resell; obviously I'm not going to do that at this time. I'm 
recommending to 99SE license holders who want to sell to wait until after 
Jan 1, when the sale expires.

If you have any older licenses (Autotrax, v3, P98) you don't need, which 
have not been "devalued," now is a good time to sell, because of the low 
upgrade. Contact me off-list if you are interested. (The licenses cannot be 
sold if they have been devalued, i.e., used for upgrade.)

Abdulrahman Lomax
Easthampton, Massachusetts USA

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