Users cautiously begin to buy software via the Internet
By Rebecca Sykes
Posted at 11:33 AM PT, Jun 6, 1996
CHICAGO -- Users are beginning to buy software via the Internet, mostly for
convenience, but they are doing it slowly as concerns about transaction
security still make them timid, according to an informal survey taken here at
spring Comdex this week.
Convenience and impulse buying seem to be the main motivators for paying for
and downloading online.
"You're surfing and you find something cool and you want to buy it and bing,
bing, bing, there you go," said Rick Messinger, IS director at Compression
Inc., an Indianapolis-based maker of prototypes ranging from sunglasses to
fish hook removers.
Messinger has bought between six and 12 applications on the Internet over the
past year, all for his personal use and which caught his eye while surfing at
"If you're [at a Web site] already, then it's very much a convenience" to be
able to purchase and download the software, he said. Recent purchases include
several games, and Internet software, including Netscape Communications
Corp.'s Navigator, Messinger said.
For other users, geography is the decisive factor, as they use the Internet
to gain access to software unavailable to them through local channels.
"Most of the software I look for on the 'net is not for sale in Argentina,"
said Carlos Vasquez Varela, CEO of Sistemas S.R.I., a software developer based
in Buenos Aires. Within the past year, Vasquez Varela has purchased four
applications on the Internet, including a hard-to-find printing utility he
needed for a Hewlett-Packard Co. machine.
Moreover, for Vasquez Varela, the Internet serves as a means to find out
about the software in the first place. "I wouldn't have known about the
[printing] utility" without the option to do a search on it over the Internet,
The Internet helps some users get around their geographic realities, but
other users remain constrained. In Saudi Arabia, would-be Internet users are
held at bay by two prongs of a very strong fork: the lack of
telecommunications infrastructure and the Saudi Arabian government, according
to Marwan Bayoumi, management information systems manager for Abudawood for
Industry, a Jeddah-based maker of bleach.
Bayoumi has not bought software over the Internet because doing so is too
expensive. There is currently no number to call to dial into the Internet from
within Saudi Arabia, according to Bayoumi.
Instead, users must call the United States or elsewhere to obtain "call back"
service, which lets them surf the Web from lines within that country, said
Bayoumi. The cost is around $3 per minute, which is only the beginning of the
charges incurred by making purchases over the 'net, Bayoumi said.
The Saudi Arabian government levies customs duties of 20 percent on software
and some other goods coming into the country, which would be added to the cost
of the software if it was too big to download from the 'net and had to be
shipped, according to Bayoumi.
Instead of using the Internet, Bayoumi relies on his relationship with
Clorox, to which Abudawood for Industry sells its bleach, to get access to
some software, including Windows 95, Windows NT, and Lotus Development Corp.'s
Notes, he said.
For some users, there is simply no compelling reason to buy software over the
"I'm not dissatisfied with the way I get software now" through stores or
through vendors directly, said Andrew Swiston, systems analyst at Arthur
Andersen & Co. in St. Charles, Ill. "It's still just as easy to give [vendors]
a call [and] it gives you a break from staring at the computer," Swiston
But even those who tend to buy on the Internet exercise caution.
Compression's Messinger, for example, made his purchases in stages. "I'd buy
something and watch my [credit card] statements and make sure nothing was
happening," Messinger said.
Over time, Messinger has become more comfortable with the idea of putting
payment information out on the Internet. "Security is an issue, but using the
right tools makes it not a major concern," he said. Among the tools Messinger
feels fairly comfortable with is Netscape's browser, which he uses.
Security concerns are a large part of the reason Arthur Andersen's Swiston
does not purchase software via the Internet. "It still doesn't feel real
secure," he said, noting the warning messages to that affect which accompany
many transactions on the 'net.
But others, including Sistemax' Vazquez Varela, made the jump to purchasing
software over the Web despite misgivings about security.
"The first time I did it, I closed my eyes," Vazquez Varela said. "Nothing
[bad] happened, so I did it again."
Rebecca Sykes is a Boston-based correspondent for the IDG News Service, an