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Excel Upgrade Costs

Ah, it's spring, the season of the year when a company turns its thoughts to software upgrades. I was going to say "when young companies..." but since the company I have in mind is Microsoft, a relative geezer at 15 years old, it wasn't quite appropriate. Macintosh Excel 3.0 will be out very soon, and 2.2 owners have started receiving upgrade letters. The letter we saw gave the owner the chance to upgrade for a "truly exceptional price - only $129." And that's for the academic version - it might be different for the real one (I have heard numbers like $149 floating around, so perhaps that's the price for the normal-people version.) "Exceptional" is right! That's a lot of money for an upgrade! Actually the real price is $129 plus $5.50 for shipping and handling and sales tax where appropriate (I assume in Washington state, but I'm not sure). If you bought Excel after Pearl Harbor Day (Microsoft just said December 7th, for those of you not in the US) you luck out and get the upgrade for free. The deal is good through Halloween (OK, so they only put October 31st as the date - but it is Halloween). It would have been funnier if Microsoft had actually said Pearl Harbor Day and Halloween, but as it stands, all you can really laugh at is the "exceptional" price, and that's only funny if you don't have to pay it.

The upgrade price raised a ruckus on Usenet, where people started complaining quickly. The upgrade price for 2.2 was $99, so another $129 struck most people as steep. Many got Excel 2.2 at educational prices, which in many cases are lower than the upgrade fee - at least one person said he could buy another copy 2.2 at the campus bookstore for $105 and upgrade to 3.0 for free, saving money in the process. A number of people wondered about Claris's forthcoming spreadsheet, Resolve, which should be System 7.0-compliant, if not System 7.0-studly. Resolve uses the Wingz technology that Claris purchased from Informix a while back, so it might be pretty snazzy. Wingz has a HyperTalk-like language called HyperScript, and since Claris now controls HyperCard, I'd like to see HyperScript disappear in favor of HyperTalk along with spreadsheet-specific extensions to the language. Now that would be snazzy! If Claris was smart and sleazy, they would use a standard Microsoft ploy and announce Resolve now so lots of people would hold off upgrading to Excel 3.0. Microsoft does that all the time - announcing a product too early to gain a competitive advantage.

What especially galls about this upgrade price is that Microsoft is making a bundle on it - far more, in fact, than on a new package. New packages often must go through a national distributor and a dealer or mail order firm, so everyone gets a slice of the price, and new packages usually have more packaging and more manuals than upgrades, so they cost more to produce. One person on Usenet intelligently anticipated this and other high upgrade prices (want to bet on how high the upgrade price for Word 5 will be?), saying, "I just knew this would happen after their last upgrade so I made my Mac a "Microsoft-free zone" a year ago."

To be fair, Excel 3.0 does look like a nice program, and Microsoft has a history of getting it right on the third try. But such upgrade policies will not endear the company to anyone and will leave the market wide open for a touch of Borland-style marketing for Claris's Resolve when it comes out. I'd recommend complaining to Microsoft directly - they will notice if enough complaints come in. Heck, I'd complain even if you plan on upgrading.

Information from:
Kevin -- blissmer@expert.cc.purdue.edu
Rich Long -- long@mcntsh.enet.dec.com
Jeff Hexter -- jhex_ltd@uhura.cc.rochester.edu
Derek Fong -- thewho@elaine23.Stanford.EDU
Patrick Hoepfner -- hoepfner@heawk1.gsfc.nasa.gov
Rick McCormack -- Rick_McCormack@mindlink.bc.ca
Jeff Wiseman -- wiseman@tellabs.com


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