Many software developers have found great success moving their products online. One shining success store is Valve's Steam engine, which has cranked up the company's profits and has been so successful that it now distributes games from other companies, like Take Two, for a fee. Another example of the success of online software has been Apple's App Store, which game developers are flocking to.
The bottom line is that online software distribution saves in packaging and disk production costs, as well as cutting out publisher and retailer cuts.
Now in what some are perhaps sensationally calling the beginning of the end for brick and mortar (B&M) software sales, Microsoft is becoming the latest company to move to offering its software online.
Microsoft quietly launched its Microsoft Store today, which offers directly digital copies of Microsoft Windows Vista, Microsoft Office, and more. It also sells assorted Microsoft gadgets and accessories, which while significant, are overshadowed by the fact that Windows is directly available for sale and download for the first time.
The approach, with Microsoft and some others refer to as Electronic Software Distribution (ESD) has its perks too. Microsoft mentions the faster reception over mail orders. It describes, "The big difference is that after your payment is confirmed, you can immediately download the product to your computer and install it right away. There is no longer any need to pay for shipping costs and waiting for the big brown truck to drive across the country. You’ll be able to enjoy your software almost immediately – all it takes is the download time of the product, which will vary depending on the size of the digital download."
However, even more useful is a benefit hidden in the text of the announcement. Until mainstream support for the product ends, you can redownload it to your computer whenever you need it. Not having to search around for validation keys on the backs of CD cases or in product manuals certainly seems to make the online version of Windows a superior choice.
Some are already accusing Microsoft of shooting resellers and retailers in the back with the decision. In alarmist fashion, they are saying that Microsoft's decision signals the death of packaged software. These critics continue with gloom and doom predictions about the fate of OEMs and their ilk.
In reality, this probably isn't the case. While Microsoft surely wants to slowly transition towards the more profitable purely online sales model, it will still continue to sell packaged versions of Windows for a long time. While this transition will likely hurt retailers and resellers significantly, it won't be a fatal blow, and they will have time to seek other business strategies. And in the meantime, the continued availability of packaged Windows at brick and mortar stores will help Microsoft reach some that do not have adequate internet connections to make such installations feasible.
Why did it take Microsoft, who usually set the software industry curve, so long to adopt direct online sales? One likely explanation is the firestorm of criticism from retailers and the media that they knew would follow. However, with more and more users headed online (currently 80 percent of Americans use the internet regularly); the choice was simply too tempting and financially rewarding for Microsoft to pass up. And for the user it's a win-win situation, as it provides more options and some very handy benefits.