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How Access moved upscale.

ForComment, Broderbund's pioneering group-editing product, won a fair amount of critical acclaim but almost no sales when it first appeared in 1986. Recently, however, ForComment has made a quiet comeback, this time under the ownership of Access Technologies, a $35 million minicomputer software developer whose flagship product is a multi-platform spreadsheet called 20/20.

Access president Carl Nelson talked to us recently about how his company ported an inexpensive PC product to a large-system environment. As personal computers take over bigger chunks of the minicomputer and workstation marketplace, we expect that other developers will begin to look at similar migration opportunities. So we asked Nelson what key decisions were involved in repositioning ForComment. His answers:

* How will the product mesh with a multi-user system? Unlike PC software buyers, says Nelson, Access's traditional customers pay a lot of attention to network-based features and integration with other office automation products. "For our customers, the network is the computer," he says. To adapt ForComment for a multi-user market, Access built hooks for DECNet, 3Com, Novell, and IBM PC Net (the original ForComment relied primarily on sneakernet for collecting editing suggestions), and added automatic document distribution and revision tracking. In addition, Access plans to introduce a complementary document retrieval product, called ForWords, that helps round out the company's line of office automation utilities.

* What's the right pricing model? As a stand-alone retail product, ForComment carried a $195 price tag. Multi-user pricing is more complicated, Nelson points out; for a typical 30-user license, Access charges about $2,500. That's well below traditional minicomputer applications prices--which run in the 20-$100,000 range--but "we can sell software over the phone at that price without long sales cycles or multiple site visits.,

* How much support is required? "Our customers won't tolerate setting up a support organization for an individual product," Nelson notes. "A product can have some initial bugs--that's not a problem. But if you're not there to fix them, the product is dead."

* What design tradeoffs have to be made? "Porting a product from one hardware environment to another is a miserable experience," Nelson admits. In particular, PC products tend to be optimized for rapid screen response, while large systems emphasize connectivity and multi-user support. "But there's often an order of magnitude poorer performance on screen updates."

Carl Nelson, president Access Technology, 2 Natick Executive Park, Natick, Mass. 01760; 508/655-9191.
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Title Annotation:Access Technology's ForComment group-editing software package
Date:Aug 20, 1990
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