DOS enters book stores

Microsoft is blazing a new trail in software marketing with the introduction, this month, of its flagship dos software program in mainstream bookstores.DOS is the brand name of the disk operating system Microsoft developed to run as a platform program in...

Microsoft is blazing a new trail in software marketing with the introduction, this month, of its flagship dos software program in mainstream bookstores.

DOS is the brand name of the disk operating system Microsoft developed to run as a platform program in ibm-based personal computers. It is one of the top-selling programs in the world.

Historically, software publishers have limited distribution of their bread-and-butter programs to direct channel or computer reseller outlets.

But, bucking tradition, Microsoft has teamed up with IDG Books Worldwide, publisher of the popular Dummies series of software help books, and is making the latest dos version, MS-DOS 6.2, available in a book-disk package called MS-DOS Upgrade for Dummies.

MS-DOS Upgrade for Dummies comprises computer disks containing DOS 6.2, together with a special edition of DOS for Dummies. The package does not include a traditional software manual.

The selling price is about $60.

idg publishes Dummies books on a variety of popular software programs, but DOS for Dummies is its most successful launch, having sold two million copies worldwide in less than a year.

The down-to-earth series is written by Dan Gookin, a well-known author of computer books.

In Canada, MS-DOS Upgrade for Dummies will be carried by between 1,500 and 2,000 bookstores, including the major chains such as Coles Book Stores and Smithbooks.

About half the stores will stock the product in specially made cardboard displays.

There are about 3,500 retail outlets – primarily computer specialty stores – in Canada that sell computer software.

By adding the bookstore channel, Microsoft has effectively increased dos’ retail presence by about 50%.

Alec Saunders, Microsoft’s product manager on dos, says that, for now, Microsoft is viewing the launch as an experiment.

But Saunders says that if the test succeeds, bookstores could become an important new channel for software distribution.

Bev Buckton, marketing communications manager at Borland Canada, publisher of dBase III, a widely used database program, and Quattro Pro, a spreadsheet program, says he and others in the software industry will be watching the experiment closely.

‘Clearly, software companies need to expand their distribution channels, and bookstores are logical outlets,’ Buckton says.

Thierry Mayeur, product manager with Lotus Development Canada, publisher of the top-selling spreadsheet Lotus 123, says he believes the MS-DOS Upgrade for Dummies is ‘a good idea.

‘Everyone is looking for ways to sell to the consumer market,’ Mayer says, adding Lotus is not planning a book-disk package for general bookstores, but he intends to look into it.

Lotus does sell a book-disk package, containing Lotus 123 and a help book for accountants, in university bookstores.

For the last decade, book disks have come and gone in bookstores, more frequently in the u.s. than in Canada. But most of the activity has been generated by small software companies selling non-mainstream programs.

Brandon Nordin, vice-president of international sales for idg, says Microsoft’s decision to sell DOS 6.2 in bookstores represents the first time a major software publisher has gone that route.

Driving Microsoft is a desire to reach the large numbers of technically-challenged pc owners who are running dos versions 5.5 or earlier.

pcs running DOS 6.0, which came out in March, do not require the version of DOS 6.2 that comes in the Dummies disk-book package.

Instead, they can use a separate DOS 6.2 upgrade package, available from traditional software retailers for under $13.

(Microsoft never planned to launch a 6.2 version of dos, but was forced into it when a data loss problem arose in DOS 6.0.

(DOS 6.2 is effectively the same as dos 6.0, except it includes added progam features to prevent data loss.)

According to Saunders, there are 4 million to 5 million personal computers in Canada using dos, and the vast majority are running versions that preceded DOS 6.0.

Worse, most owners of older dos versions are unsophisticated computer users, who only rarely enter a computer store or pick up a computer magazine.

Saunders says that, as a result, they might not even realize DOS 6.2 exists.

But by displaying the program in bookstores, Microsoft believes it has found a way of catching the attention of this potentially huge buyer group.

Additionally, by piggy-backing DOS 6.2 with a popular, disarmingly titled computer help book, Microsoft hopes to cut through the techno-fear barrier that inhibits many casual pc users from buying software upgrades.

If it is possible, even more revolutionary than Microsoft’s decision to distribute DOS 6.2 in bookstores is its advertising strategy.

Saunders says he is testing a newspaper campaign in London, Ont. that positions MS-DOS 6.2 Upgrade for Dummies as a Christmas gift.

While computer games programs are frequently marketed as Christmas items, Saunders says that as far as he knows Microsoft is the first software company to take that approach with a commodity-oriented program.

If the test results show the strategy is effective, Microsoft will roll out a national ad campaign by month’s end.