Entering the European marketplace, DeskShare, and late bug fixes

I spend a lot of time in the States, and small software houses often ask how to enter the European marketplace. My answer is, "With great caution, indeed." Whilst my answer might seem unnecessarily unhelpful, anyone entering European markets should be aware of some issues.

One look at the balance sheet of a company like Microsoft shows that income comes from sales in Europe. Countries such as Germany and Great Britain are happily perched on the bleeding edge of technology, and an awful lot of Windows NT is over here.

Bringing software to Europe is a multipass task. First, you must decide what's necessary to bring a product to the European marketplace. Bringing over the US version is perfectly legitimate, providing you deal with basic internationalisation issues. Many people in Europe like to use the US version of software on a machine running US Windows, but with a localised keyboard layout. And some European keyboard layouts are positively weird: The French have the AZERTY layout, whereas Germans use QWERTZU. Don't assume your nicely crafted keystroke chords will work well on all keyboards. Plan to adjust as appropriate.

A US spellchecking dictionary will be less useful in Paris than a French dictionary, so even basic internationalisation requires effort. With a utility package such as a disc defragmenter, you probably don't need to do anything.

Of course, you can fully internationalise software, but that's a topic for itself. Be aware of the problems with dialog layouts and text string lengths. They come back to haunt you if you make unwarranted assumptions.

Then you have the manuals. Please, please, please make sure you get someone competent in computer translations. And translate everything--no one likes to receive a user's guide in a national-language translation and an all-essential installation guide in English. Shipping only US-language manuals is, however, acceptable to the English. We generally forgive such abuses of the English language as "color."

Getting a product to market can be a fraught issue, even in your own country. Doing the same in another continent adds complications. If you don't have a European presence, contact a European software reseller specializing in NT. You will need a European technical support base, preferably in the major national languages. However, English works in most countries.

Pricing is most important. Too many companies see opportunities to make money on currency transactions and forget that value is a major issue. A good example is the UK-to-US exchange rate: It's now about £1=$1.50. A software house that sells a product in the US at $499 might be tempted to sell it in England for £499, although this represents a $.50 markup. You have to pay for the UK distribution and technical support, but the UK reseller will hardly expect to purchase your software at full US retail cost. No wonder users often buy software in the US and deal directly with the US HQ for technical support, via email and Web pages.

This issue reached the height of absurdity when the UK-to-US currency conversion rate was £1=$2 and a certain music scoring publisher's UK representative was selling its $700 product for £700 ($1400). For revenge, I bought the software at Frys in Palo Alto, California, for $300 (£150).

Decent NT-focused distributors such as the UK-based Serverware Group (+44 (0)171 419 2020) listen to this potent pricing argument--they have to if they want to survive in a global marketplace where technical support via email is easy. I thought Octopus was too expensive. Serverware agreed and revised the pricing downward. I hope customer reaction helped the sales of this excellent product.

After your distributors are in place, make sure you get strong contact with the press, and thus with your intended marketplace. If you want European publications to review your software, fly over and meet the press. Companies such as Microsoft and Lotus can afford to fly the press to them, but this tactic is out of the question if you are a three-person team producing a new product.

Advertise and attend major trade shows, but don't use overly US-centric motifs. We might have heard of Whitewater, but commenting on the latest hairstyle of an NBC news presenter will guarantee you a sea of blank faces. A final warning: The European press, especially the UK press, is acerbic, well informed, and won't take kindly to grand arm-waving. Quiet confidence should be the name of the game; brash confidence just isn't English, dear chap.

For the obvious reasons of nondisclosure agreements, one doesn't want to talk too much about products in beta. However, I can talk about DeskShare, a very useful new product under development from a small British company.

DeskShare is a desktop remote-control program for NT and Windows 95. The software installs under NT as a proper service, and it has a client component. Screen 1 shows the DeskShare client. It's protocol neutral, which is a feat when you consider how brain-dead Win95 is as a proper server. When you connect to a server, after a slight pause, DeskShare's desktop magically appears on your system. Anyone familiar with Systems Management Server (SMS) knows how this sort of thing works, but the advantage of DeskShare is that it also works well with NT clients and servers. I use it constantly to remote-control NT 4.0 and NT 3.51 servers. It would be absolutely ideal in a busy machine room with several servers.

This software can even handle mixed resolutions and mixed colour depths. So working with a 256-colour server screen at 800*600 pixels from a true-colour 1280*1024 workstation is no problem--or, indeed, from the other way round.

The current beta builds implement a password protection system. The developers will include a proper domain-based security model in a later build.

DeskShare is ideally suited to an Internet connection. I connected over a 64Kbits-per-second leased line to another machine running DeskShare. Although the remote site's controlling speed wasn't brilliant, it was passable, and would be especially useful in troubleshooting over a great distance. For more information, contact sarah@telergy.com.

New App Builds
I finally received a copy of the Microsoft Office 95A bug fix. I found out this release is equivalent to the US Office 95B bug fix, which, naturally, we didn't get. A European release can take up to four weeks after Microsoft releases a product in the US--apparently because of the dreaded national language-version worries that Microsoft has to consider. Things are getting out of hand when the European community misses out on bug-fix releases.

To see how complicated service can get with European languages, look at the Win95 Service Pack 1 Web page at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/default.htm, which addresses the different European language versions. Download the wrong version, and your machine will be most unhappy--just what you need in a WAN environment spanning several borders.

On that subject: Why do the major databases store currency in a "currency" field, where the user's desktop decides the currency's value? Does it make sense to assume everyone is using the same currency? How can I browse database tables in three European countries via a WAN without getting into a horrible financial mess? I want to plead for some meaningful currency support in future applications. And this goes for Web solutions, too.