Old software packages don’t die, especially if they are source code versions. Just look at RealWorld. RealWorld? Wasn’t that purchased by Great Plains ages ago?

Yes, Great Plains did purchase RealWorld early in 2000. But nearly year-old figures from Microsoft Business Solutions, which in turn bought Great Plains, show that the supposedly defunct RealWorld line, best known for its Cobol-based Classic Accounting software, has 18,000 users. And that’s probably low, says John Miller, president of Passport Software, based in Glenview, Ill.

You see, Passport has a license to sell RealWorld source code until 2010 and it has a list of 200 active RealWorld resellers. Passport continues to develop the code base, and there are other licensees who customize systems or develop vertical add-ons for the RealWorld package.

“It’s definitely not a rapidly growing community of users,” says Miller. “But it’s a community of users who have been given every opportunity to migrate by Great Plains and by everybody else under the sun.”

Among those reasons for the die-hard universe of RealWorld sites? Companies have software that works, and why fix what’s broken? And there are people like Miller, who describes himself as among the older guys who know the system and still can operate by serving such a niche market. Miller’s company is also trying to give the users of the character-based Classic system as much of a Windows flavor as possible, which he admits is tough.

But the real lesson here also has something to do with the perils of buying other software packages. It may explain why most accounting packages that are acquired—Solomon, Navision, Axapta, Platinum for Windows—are still being marketed. Not only do most of these have a different place in the market, it’s simply difficult to get users to switch from things that work. In a tough market, 18,000-plus sites offer a tempting choice for conversion, except that these folks have chosen not to budge. (Don’t forget the roughly 17,000 DOS Great Plains Accounting sites.)

Miller says that most companies that purchase other software packages tend to think only in terms of giving users of acquired products a good deal on pricing, not of presenting a migration path that deals with the features and the functions that the users value in these products to begin with. After all, they probably got through Y2K fine. Why change now?

So Passport continues giving the RealWorld customers what they want.

“There is a huge installed base of these older products,” says Miller. “Our philosophy is to not dictate to the customer that they must migrate.”

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