A picture used to be worth a thousand words. Today, in the age of personal computers, a graphical display is worth a kilobyte of text.
At least that's the premise behind Select Demos, a CD-ROM product that contains more than a thousand graphical demonstrations of popular (and not so popular) MS-DOS and Windows programs. It requires an IBM PC or an IBM-compatible equipped with a CD-ROM drive.
At the introductory price of $99 for the disk, Select Demos can be either an economical alternative to spending afternoons going from computer store to computer store to test-drive software or a cheap way to entice people to spend hundreds of additional dollars on software they never knew they needed.
Many software companies offer their prospective customers a so-called demo disk, a diskette that shows off the features of a program in a way that no printed product review or box blurbs can.
The user plugs the diskette into his or her PC, types "demo" or some other command and watches as the software struts its stuff, often with flashy animation and sound.
Computer Library, the New York City company that also produces a CD-ROM product called Computer Select, has persuaded more than 600 software companies to put their demo disks on this single shiny platter.
There are more than a 1,000 demo programs in all, from companies including Aldus, Ashton-Tate, Borland, Broderbund, IBM, Microsoft, Lotus, Symantec-Norton, and Wordperfect.
In the best demos, the software company simply gives the user a copy of the real software, but cripples it in some way that renders it useless for day-to-day operation.
A word processing program demo might not print, or a data base might not accept more than a dozen entries. All the commands work, and the user gets a good sense of whether to invest in the full program.
In the worst demos, the company just uses a bit of animation and fancy graphics to make a slide-show sales pitch. Product features are listed and promises are made, but the user does not really get a chance to play with the software.Slightly more than half the demos on Select Demo fall into this category.
Jonathan Pollard, director of development for Computer Library, a division of Ziff Communications Co., said companies were encouraged to contribute crippled software rather than the automated slide shows.
A handful of companies also decided to contribute actual working programs, functionally the same as one would find in the stores, but without printed documentation.
Hayes Microcomputer Products contributed Smartcom EZ, a simple, $49 communications program, presumably in the hope that users would like it enough to go out and buy the more powerful Smartcom package.
Checkfree Corp., maker of software that allows PC users to pay bills electronically, offers its $29.95 software, but the catch is that there is a monthly fee for use.
The pick of the pack, however, is Geoworks Ensemble, a collection of applications that works essentially like Microsoft's Windows, but without the need for a powerful PC and lots of memory.
Ensemble is more than a "poor man's Windows," though. It comes with programs that handle word processing and simple desktop publishing, file management, communications, drawing, scheduling, and personal secretary stuff.