April 02, 2004

Burning Software CDs

Hard-to-find software burned to CDs in retail kiosk system.

Yardena Arar
From the May 2004 issue of PC World magazine
Posted Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Can't find the software you want at your local computer store? A new software-on-demand system that is now debuting at a major computer retailer's stores seeks to make the problem of out-of-stock and hard-to-find titles a thing of the past.


At the push of a few buttons, SoftwareToGo can create CDs--complete with logo labels and DVD-style cases--for 1500 software titles from some 240 publishers. Warranties and prices for the products are identical to their shrink-wrap versions.

SoftwareToGo is already in use at about two dozen CompUSA stores in Dallas, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, and the company behind it, New York-based Protocall Technologies, expects to complete its rollout to all 227 CompUSA outlets by fall. The company is also negotiating with other major retailers.

The system isn't intended to eliminate shrink-wrapped software from CompUSA's shelves, company officials say. Its main benefit is to enable retailers to sell high-end and specialty software that they normally might not carry, such as heavy-duty business applications and advanced computer-aided design tools.

Burn It, Baby
Compusa customers encounter SoftwareToGo as a kiosk about the size of a video arcade game (see photo, above). The company calls this stand a Product Preview Station.

Once a customer decides to purchase a SoftwareToGo title, he or she obtains an order receipt and brings it to a sales clerk to produce the CD, which is burned in a matter of minutes at a separate machine. The final product is an attractively packaged CD, down to the vendor's custom label and a DVD-type case.

Bruce Newman, Protocall's president, says that you're more likely to get the latest version of a program from SoftwareToGo than from a retailer's shelf, because the company can install updates in a matter of days or even hours. Most software packages include documentation on the CD, but Newman says that Protocall can mail out printed manuals if the publisher so desires.

Newman says that the publishers his company has distribution agreements with include seven of the top ten in the United States--Microsoft and Symantec among them.

SoftwareToGo doesn't necessarily offer all of a given publisher's titles, however: Microsoft, for example, has not yet permitted Protocall to offer its top selling Windows XP and Office. And as of this writing, Protocall has yet to sign agreements with Adobe, game publisher Electronic Arts, and finance/accounting market leader Intuit.

Could SoftwareToGo eventually replace shrink-wrapped products altogether? Dewey Thoes, senior buyer for CompUSA, thinks not: "People like to see stuff and touch it before they buy," he observes.

Analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group agrees, but says that if shrink-wrap does disappear, it is more likely to give way to online delivery of software.

In the meantime, SoftwareToGo can help ensure that a brick-and-mortar store will always have the software package you're looking for.

PCWorld.com - Out of Stock? No Problem

Posted by Craig at April 2, 2004 04:25 PM