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An industry divided

Chee believes the suggestion that software developers band together to improve their lot may not work as most lone software developers, of which he was one before, have limited resources and time.

"As such they would see this as unproductive and time ill-spent on a non-revenue activity. They would also be unwilling to share their hard-earned knowledge--perhaps rightly so--and their interests may not converge," he says.

The Internet appears to be a double-edged sword for local software companies offering a cost-savings means of delivery and near-free advertising, but raising the specter of piracy.

"We see the Internet as a boon particularly for our Internet-based products and offer 90-day evaluation copies for downloading. But nobody is really safe from 'warez' sites where you can get full-blown products," he notes.

V-Buster's Looi is also skeptical. He says the Internet may have raised awareness but doesn't sell more software. "My homepage hit counter has 1.17 million visitors, many of whom are only after the free evaluation copy and do not necessarily follow up with sales," he reveals.

"A few months back I stopped putting an evaluation copy of the latest release of V-Buster for downloading on my homepage for fear of piracy. The copy available was a much older release. This brought thousands of angry emails from all over the world, some exceptionally rude," he recounts.

Looi was also incensed to hear from customers that V-Buster was very popular in parts of Indonesia and Thailand. The reason: all the copies were pirated, and came complete with photocopied manuals.

"The other anti-virus program vendors offers free full-working evaluation copies on the Net. My evaluation copy has limited features. So how do you compete with something that is free?" asks Looi.

In the back-office systems market, the Internet has not really impacted business that much. "It helps with support, not with delivery. It's good for people searching for products in specific industries though, " says Kevin Steer, founder and CEO of I-Systems Consulting Sdn Bhd.

Steer's company has developed a group insurance and employee benefits system with four major clients, two locally and one each in Hong Kong and Thailand. Steer feels the industry is still desperately in short supply of trained developers and people with good project management skills.

"I think vendors should provide more grants and incentives for local developers to use their products as there is a lack of experienced developers. Thus a lot of money is spent on training," he notes.

On the marketing front, Steer says many companies in Malaysia still cannot see the value of the IT solution from the hardware.

"There is still a tendency to budget a lot for hardware and expect the software and support to be 'thrown in'. With this attitude it is difficult to effectively market anything," he adds.

In addition, the foreign bias is too firmly ingrained. "A comment recently made to me was that you must sell your product overseas first then bring it back to Malaysia," says Steer who migrated from England to start his software company here.


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