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Are there really software buyers still using 56K?

Hi All,

Notice that I said software *buyers* not web users.

There's a lot of talk about the 20MB .NET Framework being large enough to hurt or even kill sales due to the number of buyers who are connecting to the web over a dial-up 56K connection. Is that true? Obviously the type of software is important here, but even averaging it out across software in general I'd be surprised if too many people who would seriously buy software programs either a) were too cheap to pay for a broadband connection, or b) live in an area where broadband isn't available. In my experience living in the midwest every type of person that I can think of has cable or DSL. When I lived in South America everyone into computers had DSL.

I can't think of a good way of researching the percentage of people who have dial-up and who would also pay for a new software program. However, my intuition would say that the great, great majority of people interested in using their computers enough to consider buying programs other than those that come with their OS would also be interested in the web enough to pop for broadband. In most cases that I've come across since say '99, people using dial-up got a second phone line for it. Here in the midwest at least, it is $15/month for a second phone line and say $20/month for AOL or whatever ISP. RoadRunner through Time Warner is $40/ month total, so around here everyone has RoadRunner.

I also wonder about the size issue. All of the older runtimes, data access components, etc. that were around at the height of 28K and 56K dial-up surely were exponentially larger compared to the connection speed/drive space/processor/RAM than 20MB is over today's connections on today's hardware. The framework also does so much of the heavy lifting for you that your resulting app itself is much smaller than it would be in say VB6, so it's not a full 20MB overhead either.

I just don't get what all of the hassle is about. Even if it is something where potential demo users may be hesitant over a 25MB download compared to a 5MB download, you can always list the framework as a requirement along with everything else and have your installer check for it and let the user know that it needs to automatically download and install it.

Is it actually such a deterrent to sales that it outweighs the development efficiencies? (I know this depends on what your alternative method of development is - but VB.NET is clearly light-years faster to develop in than VB6 at least.)

This is all not to say that it makes absolutely no sense for MS not to have worked a little harder to get it out there than to just throw it into Windows Update as an optional component. And I do think a linker would have been nice. But still.


Saturday, March 27, 2004


Walter Rumsby
Saturday, March 27, 2004

Depending on where you live, there are many, many places in the USA where 56K is the best you can do and you are lucky to get that.  A lot of the old phone systems huff and puff to connect at 28K.

Get just a few miles out of a medium-sized city and there may be no cable and no DSL.  Either dialup or satelite is all that is left.  More than a few of the people living out in the sticks are software developers who can work anywhere and choose to leave the rat-race and head for the country.  These people buy _lots_ of software.

And don't get me started about pizza delivery ...

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Saturday, March 27, 2004

According to usability guru Jakob Nielsen, as of January 8, 2004, 62% of Iternet users are still using dial-up in the US. In Europe and Asia, an even greater percentage are still using dial-up.

See: and look at the January 2004 update on the bottom of the page.

Nielsen believes we won't be able to assume broadband for another six years or so.

Michael Bean
Saturday, March 27, 2004

But if they have broadbad, they could just get it of a p2p network, and would be less likely to buy software. While if they have dial-up they might buy software to avoid the long downloads.

Its a catch 22 isn't it?

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Yes, there are still many.  I would also agree that 20 meg probably is a death sentence.  That works out to 45 minutes+ in a download.  ( - low end numbers)

I also agree with M&M and Mitch, that those are good 56k connections and they are in limited number for a while.  I lived in a digital apartment complex that took a dive, from 56k to 24k, just in the conversion to the local analog system.  (Phone company's response - What did you expect?)

As for otaku;  Having a speedy download does not make someone more likely to pirate, any more than owning a power saw makes someone more likely to steal lumber. 

(just throwing this in ...

Saturday, March 27, 2004

It will be interesting to see how the uptake of XP SP2 is affected by dialup users. The download for RC1 is 273MB (that's not a typo), and I don't expect it to shrink much for final release.

We are one of those "live in the boonies" people, with no chance for DSL or cable modems (no cable TV at all). We were using ISDN until some smart enterprising person said "I bet all these people want high speed internet" and brought us line of sight wireless.

Brad Wilson (
Saturday, March 27, 2004

I work for a company that sells software that is downloaded from the internet.  Lots & lots of our customers are still on dialup.  It's a PITA, but you have to deal with it.  You also have to deal with people wanting to run our software but having really old machines.  Like 3 years old, ya know? ;)  Lots & lots of people haven't broken the 1Ghz barrier yet. 

Heck, now that I don't download porn or linux anymore, I don't really need broadband.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

What the hell? There are _millions_ of AOL users. Has it occurred to you that some of *them* might buy software?

I'm a software buyer, user, and developer, and I still use 56k—it's cheap, secure, and it works.

Now, 28k is a different story all together.

Bib neckbarce.
Saturday, March 27, 2004

It amuses me no end that the software industry, even at the consumer end, is so arrogant and techie-fixated that it's automatically "assumed" that an ordinary non technical consumer is interested in ultimate online speed, just as most end users do take awhile (years) to upgrade to the same kinds of machines that developers are now using.

Sometimes I think "most" large SW companies target enterprise applications because they lack the skill to code anything efficiently.

It's a deja vu feeling. Back in the early 90's, OLE embedding was all the rage, but the machines that most normal consumers owned would run any OLE based application like dog sh*t. But you'd talk to clueless code heads with souped up development machines, like EVERYONE was supposed to trash and replace their PC every 6 months, and they would run on about how "useful" OLE was. True, it IS useful, but machines in general circulation needed 2-3 years to catch up to the software (8-16 meg RAM was a *loaded* machine in '92...)

To most people, a dialup connection is unobtrusive and simple (a $3 splitter from Radio Shack on their phone jack), and the idea of adding equipment and another $20-30 charge to their monthly ISP bill just seems useless.

I've perused the download statistics at the shareware sites. It's really interesting that the most popular titles are the smallest in size. Something like "Total Commander" that is about 3 meg to download is REALLY popular...

Bored Bystander
Saturday, March 27, 2004

"56k—it's cheap, secure, and it works."

How is it secure?

Anyway. For your 200meg download, Satellite is fine. In fact, it's perfect. For a local software developer, it's fine.

However a huge amount of my work is over a ssh tunnel to work, thus it's not workable. However I do know a few developers in the sticks who need to update their cvs and upload files, download files, and it's perfect. The one second overhead (which is what it appears to them to be) is fine.

Realtime work is different. Email is fine, downloads are fine, but when you need to do work on a remote box, low latency counts more than high speed.

So it depends on your situation.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Even with broadband, I'd still rather have the small download size.

Remember, even if you increase your download speeds 10 times, the 2mb files still downloads 10 times faster than the 20mb file.

All other things being equal, I'm more likely to try out the 2mb version.

Sum Dum Gai
Saturday, March 27, 2004

>>"I would also agree that 20 meg probably is a death sentence.  That works out to 45 minutes+ in a download. "

45 minutes?  More like 1 hour 15 minutes.  When I was on 56k dial-up my typical download speed was 16 meg per hour.

I know several people who live in rural areas and  can't connect at a speed above 33k

My Cousin Vinniwashtharam
Saturday, March 27, 2004

I still use 56k. Would like to upgrade, and would save money in the long term if I did....just don't have the cash right now.

Aussie Chick
Saturday, March 27, 2004

I'd guess that 10% of my customers have no internet access (they ask if inet access is required. I say no, but ask if they have it).  I'd say another 30% to 50% have 56k or below. Actually, I'm surprised that as many of them have high speed lines (I'd guess at least 30% maybe as high as 60%). 

Our software sells for about $100 per program and we have 20 programs.

Speed of internet access is no indicator of whether a person is willing to pay for a SOLUTION to a PROBLEM.

Mr. Analogy
Saturday, March 27, 2004

"Speed of internet access is no indicator of whether a person is willing to pay for a SOLUTION to a PROBLEM."

I know, but it seems that everyone that I know (and I don't hang out in tech circles - other than reading JoS) sees slow browsing as a problem. Even my parents and my grandparents all have broadband, and not due to my involvement. Old computers, yes, but on cable.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

JWA, by contrast, my dad still dials up over a 56K modem -- despite the fact that he spends probably 3-4 hours a day on the Net, could easily get broadband and can certainly afford it, and has a wife that pesters him regularly about his incessantly hogging the single landline. (On top of which, she can't be online when he is.) And he is plenty tech-savvy, too. But for some reason I can't understand, he has convinced himself that dialup is good enough and is hugely reluctant to change. My friends and I talk about this and can only conclude that it's a generational thing, because just no logical explanation for it.

On a similar note, my brother and his wife still have dialup at home because they both have broadband at work, don't have much time to be sitting around surfing or downloading at night, and would rather put the few extra bucks a month toward home improvements.

Beyond that, I've got lots of friends and family in places where broadband simply isn't available. (Some of them have opted for satellite or microwave, but those are not really mass-market services.)

Oh, and all these people DO buy software.

John C.
Sunday, March 28, 2004


If you want to develop and market a desktop software product that can be download via the World Wide Web and is targeted primarily at the home computer user market then you would be better off using Delphi or the C++ programming language. You can also use classic VB if that is what you happen to know best.

Most people who have a broadband connection at home but don't have a valid reason for needing it obtain their software via piracy and probably wouldn't purchase whatever you want to sell to them.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

I was just about to say it occurs to me that modem users are probably more likely to buy software, since piracy is massively less convenient on a modem.

But someone beat me to it. ;)

Sum Dum Gai
Sunday, March 28, 2004

I think the original poster was referring to buying software that is delivered over the Internet.  In that case, having a slow connection is just as much a deterrence to buying the software as it is to pirating it.

If the software is distributed on a CD, then the .NET runtime could be placed on the same CD, so lack of bandwidth would not be a problem.  Or is it that the .NET runtime not freely or cheaply redistributable, thereby forcing users to head to to download it themselves?

T. Norman
Sunday, March 28, 2004

The runtime is definitely freely redistributable.

Dave Rothgery
Sunday, March 28, 2004

I am on dial-up. There are few places in Saudi with DSL, and even if my exchange was one (it isn't) I wouldn't go for it because for the hundred or so hours a month I spend online from home it is still cheaper to pay phone charges ($1 an hour).

In Sri Lanka I use dialup, because there are only five exchanges in the whole country that have DSL at present (which really irritates me because in Lanka it's dirt cheap ($20 a month) while the phone charges are real expensive.

The premise that people don't have Broadband because they are too cheap to get it is infantile. Most of Western Europe is without it, even though they spend a load more on software than the Koreans, who have the world's largest takeup of Broadband. And there will be people who can havei it but only use the internet occasionally. That doesn't mean they won't buy software for doing their tax, or dieting, or for knitting patterns, or to make differential calculus so much easier, or whatever.

And, as I mentioned above, remember that people outside the States pay for local telephone calls, sometimes paying as much as $3-4 an hour. A 20 Meg download will easily take a couple of hours, and if you don't have a program like GetRight, they may have to try three or four times.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Stephen - "The premise that people don't have Broadband because they are too cheap to get it is infantile. "

Please notice the b) section in my scenarios - acknowledging that there are plenty of areas where it isn't yet available.

I guess upon thinking about it a bit I would concede that for software in general, it is an insurmountable hurdle just because of how many small utilities there are out there.

My company develops programs for mid-large businesses. I guess that might have skewed my thinking of the nature of the market in general. I guess that even developing for the small business market you'd still have to think about it before accepting the 20 (actual 25 with ADO.NET) meg addition.


Sunday, March 28, 2004

"Even my parents and my grandparents all have broadband, and not due to my involvement. Old computers, yes, but on cable."

My father in law worked for ATT as an engineer and helped create ASCII (his claim to fame) by suggesting...drum roll... a 7 (or is that 8) level code vs the old Buadot  (sp?) code.

And he's got a 56k line.

So there are plenty of reasonable intelligent people with dialup access.

Mr. Analogy
Monday, March 29, 2004

There are plenty of people still using modems of one type or another, especially if you include those (like myself) who use ISDN, which (at 64Kb) isn't a whole lot faster than a 56Kb modem!

Which brings me onto a real gripe. In the UK the best way to avoid humungous telephone bills for internet connection is to buy into one of the flat rate schemes (FRIACO). These have two major disadvantages for ISDN users: (i) they don't seem to allow channel bonding of both the BRI's (so as to get 128Kb) and (ii) even the so called 'Anytime' plans cut you off after about 2 hours.

The prospect of downloading a >250Mb service patch is just laughable. Microsoft should spend some of that ridiculous $50B cash pile they have on some proactive customer service and mail a CD to every registered user. Or if they're too skinflint to cover the postage, they should have boxes of they in every major computer store where you can pick one up for free.

David Roper
Monday, March 29, 2004

Pehaps they should include it on AOL CD's.

Problem solved.

Jason Watts
Monday, March 29, 2004

Reading about "Everyone I know has broadband" put me in mind of the thread on "what do managers do":

in terms of the arrogance exhibited by so many programmers.

As has been abundantly pointed out, plenty of people do not have broadband. Plenty of people only have one phone line, so the desire to keep online time to a minimum has more than just convenience behind it.

I'm sorry, OP, but a 250Meg download is daunting for most of us.

Mister Modem
Monday, March 29, 2004

"I'm sorry, OP, but a 250Meg download is daunting for most of us."

Hey - I'm talking a 30MB download as opposed to a 15MB download. Don't make it worse than it has to be :).

Monday, March 29, 2004

Yes, I still use 56K.  It works just fine for most normal web browsing and online purchasing.  Downloads are fine too, though I balk when files get beyond about 25MB.

Why do I stick with a modem?  Because it's less than $15 a month.  Broadband would be $50 in my area.  The extra monthly expense isn't justified.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

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