[re Altium's essay into software maintenance fees]And why did we reject the idea? I can not speak for you, but I can speak for myself. There were two reasons. First, when I bought 99SE, it came with support included in the price I paid for it. For them to all of sudden decide that they were going to renege on it is a violation of the contract and I would not stand for it on principle.
They did not "decide ... to renege" on their contract, although many users took the announcement that way. The announcement was clumsy, to be sure. The service program they announced was one which, for an annual fee, was to provide upgrades in addition to ordinary support. It is possible that future purchasers would have seen some reduction in support if they had not paid the fee, but there was pretty clearly no plan to cut back on the kind of included support that was already being provided, i.e., service packs with bug fixes for a limited period of time, and discounts on upgrades to the next version.
Most CAD companies in the Altium class have annual maintenance fees. The Protel model was not all that different: "free" maintenance -- for a limited time -- and upgrade fees. If one looked at the upgrade costs over a substantial period, they were comparable to what other companies were charging for maintenance (and they are still that way, though a little cheaper perhaps).
Altium saw that the change was not being taken well by users and backed off. In reality, the backing off was simply a redefinition of the maintenance program, making it clear that the program was an optional addition rather than a substitution. They still offered Total Support, they just made it clear that this was something being sold for valued added, not something previously included being taken away to be replaced with a regular payment.
When I was making my original Protel purchase decision, I researched a number of CAD systems. Among the ones I considered at the time was Cadence Allegro Workstation. It was going to cost $10,000, as I recall, for a somewhat limited seat, on a special deal. They did not mention that $1500 maintenance was in addition, and was obligatory *even for the first year*, i.e., you could not buy just the seat, you had to buy the first years maintenance in addition. I'm sure I would have found out when I placed the purchase order!
But I was able to get into Protel 98 for $1995 because of a friend's un-upgraded Autotrax license.... And it was $700 more to move to Protel 99, shortly before the SE release, which was free, of course.
The problem with DXP, it is fairly widely acknowledged, is that its increased power has come with an increased complexity which has not yet been sufficiently been compensated by ease-of-use enhancements. An experienced 99SE user is going to face a serious retraining hit at this time. The general report from those who bite the bullet and learn the DXP way is that it is worth it, *but*, quite obviously, if you are going to have to retrain, the time is ripe to consider other systems.
I suspect that retraining to one of the other major systems is going to be quite a bit more difficult than retraining to DXP, but my point here is that by issuing DXP the way they did, Altium has set up a potential cause of user loss. I'm sure they are taking a hit from it, but how serious is the hit, I would have little way of knowing. This issue is not going to affect new DXP users as much as it is going to affect 99SE upgraders.
The real sleeper would be the number of 99SE-DXP upgrades that are gathering dust. Sales might look good now, only to collapse with the next revision as those users move to a competing system. This won't be happening with new DXP users, I think.
DXP 2004 is improved in many ways, and might ameliorate the situation, but I think the central retraining issue has not been adequately addressed. The Query system, in particular, is clearly more powerful in most ways, but it is also a formidable barrier to a 99SE user who is just trying to do a simple global edit. Sure, eventually he'll learn how to do things quickly in DXP (though maybe still not quite so quickly), but that barrier can be quite frustrating. I am not the only one who is reminded of OrCAD Layout.
Secondly, I might have been convinced to go along with the change because of changing business climate. However, the problem for Altium was that I had been occasionally calling the support hotline and knew that there was not much support there. I am certainly not going to pay for something if I was not going to receive any value or frequently receive wrong answers.
This comment completely neglects the major component of Total Support: included upgrades. If Mr. Wasti had purchased Total Support, he wuuld have received the DXP and DXP 2004 upgrades without additional charge, and I think he might have the Nanoboard (a nominal $995 value) too. That is $2990 worth of value -- i.e., $1995 initial DXP upgrade plus $995 Nanoboard. I don't recall the Total Support pricing, but I think it might have been comparable or less.
It has long been my position that the best support, in general, is provided by users; and users can provide this support for themselves, thus saving themselves *and the company* money. The optimum combination seems to have developed on the DXP list, where users do still provide most of the support, but also Altium personnel regularly contribute, up to and including Mr. Martin, the founder of Protel. There tends to be a collegial feeling....
Some users have a stand-off attitude toward vendors. Give us what we want or we will go elsewhere, they shout. And, by the way, your software is a piece of **** and your business ethics are worse. I don't think this is particularly an efficient way to communicate. Certainly, if Altium products don't serve our needs, we will probably stop buying them. But until then, we are together in a boat; if the boat sinks, it will hurt all of us. If Altium goes under, I find it hard to conceive of how we might benefit from it, and most of us would lose a lot, being stuck with dead-end software and a need to retrain.
Maybe other people refused to go along for other reasons, but this was my reasoning. Their attitude of "We have great news for you. We have decided to upgrade our service, so the same quality service that you were promised for free, you now get to pay for" did not go over well either.
Of course, that was not ATS, that was how some users, like Mr. Wasti, perceived ATS.
Altium's main market is people who have never heard of Protel before. I doubt they are getting much repeat business.I think Protel has a market... it's guys and gals like us that are willing to hold on... but nobody can continue to wait forever.
It is hard to translate sayings into other languages, but here's one that bears a lot on Altium's situation for the last 5 or so years: Being bad is OK, having a bad reputation is what is really bad. Altium has acquired a very bad reputation among its users because of poor and short sighted management and now it is finding it hard to get any support from the user base. That may be its undoing.
I think Mr. Wasti is living in a constricted world. There is an active and loyal user base, most of which has largely moved its mailing list participation to the DXP list. Now, if Altium does not continue to respond to the users, it is going to be in trouble. The 99SE release showed how responsive Altium could be. The DXP release was in some respects a step forward and in some respects a step back. Personally, I prefer to hope that Altium will, as it has in the past, continue to learn from its mistakes and continue to involve and consider broad user input in how it plans its future moves.
My own suggestion to Altium is to better address the usability issues that have created bad feeling among some segments of the 99SE user base. Those issues are real, and they have not been adequately addressed as yet (though there are plenty of actions Altium has taken to ameliorate the situation, I'm only saying that these have not been enough, not that the problem is being completely ignored).
And my suggestion to 99SE users has long been to stay current. Ideally, upgrade to the next release as soon as it is available. The money for program improvements has to come from somewhere! If one did not upgrade before now, the price has gone up, but present upgrades do include the Nanoboard (whereas prior less expensive upgrades did not necessarily include it). Perhaps one might watch Altium closely for announcements of price increases or special pricing, and buy before the upgrade price goes up again, it eventually will.
The early DXP upgraders who remain unhappy seem to be those who were not willing to invest the retraining time. They were in the middle of a job, perhaps, and they needed to get it out the door, and DXP was a big roadblock for them. It's understandable, and Altium should attempt to rescue the situation for these -- I am assuming that there are a significant number -- but 99SE-DXP users who seriously approached using the new version, and got over the frustration hump, seem to be satisfied that it is an improvement worth the cost, though there remains plenty of room for further improvement...
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