March 97 - Editor's Note
The nerd market has been saturated -- you all have computers -- but what about the "home market"? I'm no expert on this, but now that I've taken on the persona of home user myself, I feel better qualified to say why normal people would rather use calculators and play board games. I
recently upgraded to a Power Mac 8500 so that I could work at home and also to be able to enjoy some fun software like the newly released electronic version of my favorite board game. Rather than just download software from an Apple server to use for work, I was going to buy something to play with to help justify my new expensive hardware purchase -- just like any Mom, Pop, or kid might do.
I took a trip -- several, actually -- to a barn-like emporium that is Nerd Central in my neighborhood but a singularly unpleasant place for non-geeks. (The clerks seem to know that if you have to ask for what you need, you don't belong there, so they ignore you.) The first few times, I was dismayed to find that the game I wanted had been released only for Windows and not yet for Macintosh. Finally, when I looked more closely at the product in the Windows software section, I saw the small print on it that said "Windows and Mac." Then all I had to do was wait a half hour in line to buy it.
Remember the big furor over wasteful packaging when CDs started replacing record albums in audio stores? Before long the shelves were redesigned and the extra packaging eliminated. What did I find in this big box containing a software product for which I had shelled out 50-plus dollars? Nothing but a CD in its case and a huge piece of molded black plastic cleverly designed to take up all the rest of the space in the box. I wondered how much that extra packaging had cost me, but decided to get on with it and chill out over a good game.
I'll run out of space before I can get through all the other problems I encountered. Suffice it to say I was dissatisfied with the product, to the point where I would not have purchased it had I known of its shortcomings ahead of time. It paled in comparison to a similar shareware game I'd been using (for which, needless to say, I didn't have to drive to a store, search for the product, wait in line, spend a lot of money, and throw away most of the package).
The home market won't really take off until the experience of purchasing software becomes more pleasurable and foolproof. This could mean something more like buying audio CDs, where you go to a cool store organized by content type and not hardware type, where you can easily return the product within a short time for any reason, and where you can even try out the disc before buying it. Or it may mean waiting till the practice of buying software off the Web has taken hold -- especially inexpensive shareware, so that satisfaction is guaranteed in advance. Only solutions like these will roust the home market. Otherwise it's just too much of a pain.
CAROLINE ROSE (firstname.lastname@example.org) isn't a typical home user, since she was one of the first people to use a Macintosh and she cut her teeth before that on a timesharing system. But that was all in the line of duty, whereas at leisure she uses computers as little as possible. She's even been known to handwrite letters to friends. Speaking of which, Caroline has received so little mail from develop readers lately that this issue is missing a Letters section and she's missing hearing from you. What's on your mind about develop? Please take a moment to let Caroline know.*