Electronic Software Distribution on the Internet

If you are a software developer wanting to make your mark on the world, now is a great time to start. Today’s software distribution model is moving away from traditional retail software packaging and is moving towards on-line electronic distribution. Electronic Software Distribution (ESD) using the Internet is a great way for small or startup software companies to deliver their products to a large number of users at a very low cost. Although, software applications have increased in size today into the many megabytes, higher access speeds have decreased download times. A 5MB application can take almost an hour to download from the Internet on a 28.8kbps modem. However, it can be downloaded in about 10 to 12 minutes using an ISDN 128kbps digital modem. There are still the traditional methods of putting your software into the hands of potential customers via diskette or CD-ROM. However, the cost of copying a large number of diskettes or even burning CD-ROM’s can be very costly in comparison to the cost of having your software available for download from your own company web site. Providing potential customers with 24 hour a day access to the latest version of your software off of the Internet by simply clicking on a link is an exciting venture.

Some of the several things to consider when distributing your software over the internet. 1) You will need a web site with ample storage space to hold your software applications in a distributable form. This may be a single executable file or a diskette install version of your software. 2) It must be very easy for potential customers to install your application onto their computer. 3) Your software product should come with very good on line help and documentation. 4) You will also need a way to help guarantee getting paid for your product.

Web Site
Check with your Internet Service Provider as to how much disk storage space is provided with your company web site. Most Windows applications will be at least 1MB to 5MB in size. You can also upload your software to some of the shareware software web sites for download as well.

Ease of Installation
No matter how great your application may be, if it is difficult to install or setup no one will use it. Therefore, you should invest in an application installation tool to give your product a professional looking installation such as Wise Solutions Inc.’s Wise Installation System (http://www.glbs.com) or InstallShield (http://www.installshield.com). These software tools allow you to bundle all of the files required by your application into one single executable installation program. These tools also help you script your installation to allow for user prompts and inputs as well as helping you update the system registry.

On Line Help and Documentation
A really good product is usually very complex and therefore it is important to provide really good help and documentation with your product as well. If a lot of users like your software and want to purchase it, you will not want to be swamped with support calls on how to use it. Creating Windows help files using a word processor to creating Rich Text Format files to be compiled into a Windows help file is not very productive. Therefore, it is well worth the investment in purchasing a good Windows Help development tool. There are many help development tools on the market today. I am currently using Visual Help Pro 3.1e from Winware Inc. (http://www.winwareinc.com).

Your help files and documentation should include screen shots of your application providing explanations to the information on those screens as well as how to perform various functions on those screens. Lately, some applications are including video clips of the software in action with audio explanations in the form of AVI files. These are video clips recording a portion of your computer screen as your application is running demonstrating how to use it. These are stored as an AVI file with both video and audio while running the application. These video clips can then be distributed with your application or made available as a separate download. The large size of these AVI help files can be somewhat restrictive for Internet distribution and are typically better suited for distribution on CD-ROM. In order to capture screen shots or video clips of your application, you will need some sort of screen capture and video capture software. I am using HyperSnap-DX for screen captures and HyperCam for video capture from Hyperionics (http://www.hyperionics.com).

How To Get Paid For Your Great Software
Well probably the most important thing to a software company delivering software over the Internet is getting paid for it. If you want to get paid for your tireless efforts, then you should develop a way to limit the use of your product before the end user registers and pays for it. You want to keep users from giving registered copies of your software to friends to use without you getting paid as well. There are several third party software tools that can be incorporated into your product to help you thwart software pirates from using your application without you getting paid. However, most software pirates can find a way around most crippling schemes given enough time and resources. You can deliver your software product as Shareware or Trialware. Shareware applications are typically not crippled and have been around for quite some time now. Shareware products make money by requesting that the end user register the application for a nominal fee if they like it. In fact, many small companies began selling their software as a shareware product and eventually made enough money to begin packaging their software to be sold at retail. Trialware has been used more recently by even large software companies as a way for end users to try their products before they buy. Where Shareware software does not guarantee payment for your software, Trialware is intended to fully demonstrate your application, but with an expiration date or a limited number of runs on a computer system. The software company expects the customer to purchase the full product at a store in order to receive a complete non-crippled version of the product. This can also be done over the Internet with the use of third party software keys or by creating your own way of deactivating the crippling code in your software.

The Internet provides an opportunity for small software companies and developers the chance to make it big without a lot of startup capital or recurring costs. Not only is the Internet a good way to distribute your company’s really great software products to the masses, but it benefits end users as well. Now the end user has the chance to download a lot of really great (and not so great) software to their PC. Then they can try it out before forking over some of their hard earned cash for a product that may not do what they wanted after all. Just remember to make your software easy to install.


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Last modified: March 02, 2009