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Online stores wrapping software

Preview Software's new vBox "wrapper" technology lets potential buyers use software packages on a trial basis before deciding to buy them.

Four major online software stores say they will use Preview Software's new vBox "wrapper" technology, which lets potential buyers use software packages on a trial basis before deciding to buy them.

The announcement means that software publishers could encrypt their software application once, then sell it through a variety of online outlets. Software sold over the Net is often encrypted so it cannot be tampered with as it passes over the Internet.

Preview will give its encryption tools to publishers for free, then let them add business rules or conditions of sale separately. The company will charge $500 for each site that sells the software.

The online resellers that will support Preview's try-before-you-buy packaging are eWarehouse, software.net, CNET: The Computer Network's BUYDIRECT service, and the Netscape Software Depot, which is operated by software.net.

Jeffrey Tarter, publisher of SoftLetter, said Preview's announcement fits into a broader trend of moving away from technology vendors' point solutions into more comprehensive solutions.

"We're getting closer to simple off-the-shelf solutions that make the electronic software distribution (ESD) process essentially transparent for the [software publisher]," Tarter said. "That's a big part of what Preview is doing."

Terry Murphy, vice president of sales and marketing for eWarehouse, called Preview's announcement "a step toward digital rights management," a key component of selling software online.

In January, Preview announced a partnership with Portland Software, another ESD technology vendor that previously had been a competitor. The announcement said Preview and Portland will integrate their technologies, using Preview's "wrapper" software and Portland's Ziplock 3.0 server for selling software online.

The ESD marketplace remains crowded--other technology vendors include wrapper firm TestDrive and Softbank Net Solutions, which has wrappers and a clearinghouse for keeping track of payments and ownership of digital rights.

Two online resellers, Release Software and TechWave, have their own wrapper software.

Industry trade group Software Publishers Association is working on standards in specific technologies, said SPA staffer Fran Foster, including digital receipts and digital licensing certificates. It also is surveying consumers, publishers, and resellers to identify trends and attitudes about ESD.

Tarter believes standards, while important, are not critical to ESD's success.

"The market has survived with a multiplicity of wrapping techniques. It's not a killer, it's nuisance, and that's not what's stopping ESD," Tarter said.