Computers: Feedback: Prices on the line

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TWO anouncements this week point towards the future of the industry: problems have been found to fit the solutions represented by modems and CD- rom drives.

Gateway 2000, the American direct-selling company, is to bundle membership of Compuserve, the computer information network, and Wincim access software with its machines when these are supplied with modems - 45 per cent of its machines were sold with modems last year.

Using technical support this way is a more expensive but possibly quicker and more comprehensive alternative to hanging around on the telephone, because on-line support gives you direct access to the experience of other users, as well as to the suggestions made by the company and to the software 'fixes' which may be made available there, and which can be downloaded as easily as free advice.

WITH FEW exceptions, much of the vast storage space on most CD-rom disks is wasted. Now Apple UK has started to distribute software on cheap CD-roms. There is a snag, of course: the software being given away is crippled, or merely a demonstration version. But the full programs are there on the CD and if you decide to buy them, you telephone with a credit card number and are given a password to unlock them. Fonts for desk top publishing have been sold in this way before, but this is the first large-scale use of the medium to sell commercial software in this country.

Meanwhile, the prices of software on floppy disks get odder and odder. No one, ever, should pay the full suggested retail price for a word processor or spreadsheet, when it is possible to get 'suites' containing a word processor, spreadsheet, graphics package, and database for only slightly more from either Microsoft, Lotus, or Borland and Word Perfect. What is not so generally known is that both Microsoft and Lotus are offering huge discounts for students, as well as for schools.

This week, Lotus has been offering its Smartsuite for educational buyers at pounds 156 - compared with about pounds 400 in the shops; and Microsoft has its competing Office integrated package at pounds 195.

Educational buyers who promise to purchase 1,000 copies of Office over two years can get them for pounds 55each, a price which can hardly cover the costs of the floppy disks involved.

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