Homepage: I guarantee that . . .

Homepage: I guarantee that . . .

Software companies never stay in business if they keep making the same product. I'd be hard pressed to think of a company that made its name with a single product and still relies on that product to stay profitable. Even stalwarts like Symantec's Norton Utilites have changed so much since they were introduced, that little apart from the name has remained.

Blame operating system manufacturers who continue to put more in their systems.

Some manufacturers see the writing on the wall and always have a new project on the boil. Others turn a blind eye to their shrinking market share, either becoming second-rate companies or takeover targets. And of course, buying a product that's on the way out is often poor business strategy as many vendors have found over recent years. Quarterdeck had a nice market niche with QEMM for many years, but when was the last time you sold a copy of that?

In an ideal world, the support calls would stop coming in around the same day the final copy leaves the shipping department. Unfortunately things aren't always that neat, and vendors have to decide whether to continue to offer support on a product that's no longer bringing in a cash flow, or dump it.

Judging from a steady stream of calls from resellers, far too many vendors are dumping older products. Sometimes, the day a new version ships, the old version seems to pass from human memory. Except for the person who bought it, and who is blessed with an ability to continue to discover things it doesn't do properly.

Thankfully, a few vendors not only build up good Web-based expert systems, but they keep them online long after the product has been remaindered.

Bespoke software is a different matter. When you write a system for your clients, how much thought do you give to the life of that product. Here are some points you might like to consider building into your next contract:

The expected life of the product

How long you will offer free and paid supportWhat expectations the client can have to buy either an upgrade, or a new product that will maintain data usefulnessHow long training will be available on this versionWhat the client is expected to do to keep productiveAccessibility of both the code and the dataExpectations as to expendabilityThe intended use of the product, and specific limitationsAny time or size or other limitations.

Note: 40 per cent of this column is guaranteed to contain words that will be pertinent at least 12 months from today.

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