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Update News for April 2014
Here is a quick run-down on what you will find in this bulletin:
These topics will be dealt with in more detail throughout this bulletin.
If you already have newer computer equipment, running Windows 7, 8 or 8.1, you probably don't care about this part of the bulletin and you should skip to the next topic.
IMPORTANT: Compulife will continue to run on Windows XP machines for years.
If you are running Windows XP - DON'T PANIC! The sky will not fall on April 8th. There is no need to rush out and buy a new computer. Be patient and read on. I thought I would take a few minutes to share my thoughts.
For those reading them, there have been lots and lots of articles talking about the end of XP on April 8th. For those running XP the articles have been interesting as they discuss the implications for XP users of not upgrading. However, Windows XP will continue to run after April 8th and you are not likely to experience any problems, other than warnings from Microsoft that you should upgrade.
Personally I am in no rush to do so and I plan to continue to have XP on several of my own machines for some time. Windows XP is a reliable system which is why I still personally use it on my own machines. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
It is true that XP will be more vulnerable to hackers once Microsoft stops publishing security patches but Microsoft makes it sound as if the newer Windows operating systems are indestructible and impervious to attack. That's baloney. Personally I'm more concerned about operating system bugs in a new operating system than I am to hackers going after my XP box.
They also try to make it sound as if the entire hacker world is waiting for April 9th to launch a full scale assault on an operating system that even Microsoft is calling out-dated and defunct. Do you think the possibility of new revenue from new sales of software is driving any of this rhetoric?
I was watching a Fox News special report on the NSA this past week, and Brett Baier was visiting the main threat room of the NSA where they gather and monitor potential terrorist attacks. There, on some of the many computer monitors in the NSA room, were Windows XP desktop screens. Apparently the NSA is not in a panic. I don't think you should be either.
It has been widely reported that the vast majority of computers that control the electrical grids are still running XP, just as the vast majority of ATM's. You would think that if there was a super serious threat of hackers bringing down computer systems after April 8th, President Obama would have taken out his pen and sent Microsoft an executive order to delay their decision to stop producing security patches. After all, he is President Delay when it comes to Obamacare.
And I would not be surprised if we discover that Microsoft kicks out additional security patches for XP if a serious threat is encountered.
All of that to say: DON'T PANIC! Be patient.
My advice is to ensure that you keep a copy of an anti-virus program on your computer. Which one is best? Personally I don't know although some are clearly better than others. There are lots of reviews on-line and you can read then by googling "anti-virus reviews".
The last anti-virus product I put on one of our machines was Avast. I preferred PC-Tools but that product/company was bought out by Norton and I definitely do not like Norton. Of course I'm prejudiced as I don't like anti-virus programs that quarantine Compulife's programs even though there are no viruses in them. Norton has been a persistent offender. I'm told by others, in Norton's defense, that it's user error. However, I know that there are others anti-virus programs we have no problems with, such as Avast.
Back to Windows XP itself. We do get questions about it, and expect to get more. Today I received a call from one of our subscribers who said his XP computer was warning him that on April 8th his Windows XP operating system would no longer be supported by Microsoft. I suspected that Microsoft would be planting warning messages in their XP updates, but this is the first time I have encountered it in a question from a subcriber.
Personally I haven't seen any warnings on my own XP machines because I don't let my own machines get updates from Microsoft unless I manually OK them. I only allow those updates after I have backed up my hard drive. I always expect the worst from updates and I want to make sure that I can fall back to a previous edition of Windows if the wheels come off an update.
But XP users are likely to see warnings and there may be an inclination to panic, DON'T! The estimates at the beginning of the year were that almost 1/3 of the computers out there are still running XP. Needless to say, we are not alone. XP will continue to run after April 8th although I suspect it will complain more than it used to.
If you are planning to upgrade there is a big chance you won't just be putting a new operating system on your old computer, you will be getting a whole new computer. A lot of older machines do not have sufficient horsepower to run the new operating system, and you're better off getting new equipment with the newer Windows operating system already installed.
On a side note, I hate to think of all those good machines that are on their way to land fills, but the reality is that the new Windows operating system won't work well on many of the older machines and I think it's a waste of time trying to upgrade an old system. If and when you decide to upgrade, it's a smart move to also be buying new equipment. What a waste! Compulife runs great on many of these older machines although they are slow on many of the other programs that people use.
Regarding newer versions of Windows, the question we routinely receive from subscribers is, "Will Compulife run on Windows 8 or 8.1?"
YES - Compulife runs fine on all the newer windows operating systems.
The next question, "Will Compulife run in the 64 bit operating system?". The answer is Yes, it runs fine. You can run 32 bit programs on 64 bit machines, but you cannot run 64 bit programs on 32 bit machines. Compulife is currently compiled for 32 bit and we are not rushing to compile it in 64 bit. As you know, Compulife is already lightning fast. That's because it is tight and compact C++ compiled code. We just don't need the extra performance that some software gets by running in 64 bit. By keeping Compulife in 32 bit, we have a one size fits all solution.
So what about Compulife and Windows XP in the future?
Compulife will continue to run on Windows XP machines for years. As I said, we have no interest in upgrading our software to 64 bit and I hate pushing our subscribers to new hardware until they need or want it for other reasons. I think the last big push was when we required our subscribers to have a hard disk to run our software. While that's a few years ago (decades), I still remember that we had to help a handful of customers get hard drives put into their machines.
Another systems upgrade requirement occurred when Compulife went to 32 bit from 16 bit. This means that those who were still running Windows 98 couldn't run Compulife. But that was years after XP was introduced, and we still provided a Windows 98 compatible program for those who needed it, for a significant period of time. No one got hurried into XP.
While I will personally continue to use XP on a number of machines for the foreseeable future, Compulife does have several newer 8.1 boxes in our operation. For some of the development and database work that we do (to keep track of subscribers and services), the newer, faster processors and 8.1 operating system gives us a real boost in speed and productivity. My personal use does not require that extra horsepower. Sometimes I have to wait a few seconds for our company database to search for a client record, but it's not something that would make me rush out and but a new machine.
And finally, you know that once the "rush" to buy new computers is past (figure just after Christmas 2014) there will be cheaper deals on better equipment, just as there always is with newer technology. If you rush out right now to buy new equipment, I think you are going to pay top dollar.
So unless you just have to do it, I would be patient and not rush out to buy a new machine. Remember, make sure you keep your anti-virus software up-to-date.
We have extended work on the new company information data structure, to implement two innovations which will be used for the new product/rate structure data files that will be introduced into the up-coming new version of our software. While this is a longer period of development than we originally wanted or planned, these additional changes will serve as the foundation for all the other rate structure changes that follow, and we want to get it right from the start.
In that regard our current rate database, which was the third evolution of our system, has served us well for the last 20 years. However, with computers becoming more powerful, and with access to more computer memory, we can make changes that will work better and make the life of our programmer much easier. The new system will also make changes to the software a whole lot easier and faster.
The first of the two innovations that we have come up with is a two stage data entry process. The first step will store data into a proprietary text file format on our computer(s). Once that data has been entered and saved, and once we exit the data entry program, the text version of the data will be "compiled" into a .DAT file. This .DAT file will be a proprietary compressed format that can only be read by our programs either to display or calculate product information.
As background, we would not be in business very long if our work to gather and distribute company/product information was easily accessible/visible to third parties who could mine the data that we entered, and then place it into their own software offerings in competition with Compulife. In that regard our current data files are fairly encrypted and pretty well useless to third parties. There is only one exception to that: life insurance company forms.
We took a position, right at the beginning of developing our forms engine technology, that application and service forms should be free to agents and agencies. I remember the good old days, before forms were available on-line, where if you wanted an application form from a life company you contacted the company and they snail mailed you a stack of whatever you needed. There was no charge for that service and the forms were free.
After the internet came along, companies began providing forms in PDF format. That meant the agents could print the forms on their own printer. It was great for agents, they never ran out of whatever forms they needed. But it was also a windfall profit for life companies who no longer had to pay for printing or shipping forms.
Unfortunately we were late to the party in the providing a one-stop life company forms engine, and the market became accustomed to the notion that life companies would/should pay a fee for the distribution of their PDF files. I am still amazed that they think they need to pay for that. Worse, many agencies and/or agents are paying fees to obtain those forms. I still marvel at why something that used to be free should cost money, especially where there is no cost to the company for printing or mailing.
When we rolled out our forms library we decided to make the library files completely open. The form records are contained in a file called FORMS.DAT which is a text file that you can open with any text file editor such as notepad. When you open the file you will see that each of the 5,764 forms is on it's own line. As you look across each line all the information has been stored in a pretty obvious format. In other words, we are not trying to hide something and believe that forms storage and retrieval technology should be free. Those who buy our internet engine get the forms software included for free. If they host the forms on their own server, it's all free. If life companies provide us with forms, they can have our forms entry software and retrieval software for free.
It is different when it comes to the premiums rates and product information in our comparison software. That is the part of our business that we rely upon to generate revenue and we need those data files secure and un-readable to 3rd parties. Our original plan was to have the data in encrypted files, where we added and modified those files when changes were needed (as we do ow). With the two step process, the addition and modifications will be made to text files, and then the data compiled, compacted and encrypted into a format that can only be understood by our software.
This process will also make it easy to manage and manipulate multiple product files. Deletions and additions to and for products is simply keeping an inventory of the text files current. We are excited by how much easier it will be to maintain the new system.
The second innovation will be built upon two concepts already being used. Those who are familiar with the intricate working of our Pick 12 spreadsheet know that there is a system of "style" sheets which allow you to have significant control over the look and feel of the Pick 12 quotes. Style sheets allow the changing of fonts, colors, etc. Of course we rolled that out before the internet and so to offer that kind of option, you really had to develop your own tools to let the subscriber make those changes.
Subsequently we introduced our web quoting software. The format, look and feel for the internet quotations is controlled with a file that we call TEMPLATE.HTM. When a subscriber wants to modify the look and feel of the quote results, they simply make changes to the TEMPLATE.HTM. The TEMPLATE file is completely .HTML compatible meaning that all of the formatting allowed by browsers in .HTML is available to the user.
Maximum control of TEMPLATE files is reserved for those subscribers who buy our Internet quote engine and who actually run that engine from their own internet server. That is the most expensive package Compulife offers, and together with a subscription to our Windows software, costs just under $1,300 per year.
A less expensive version of internet quotes is available for only an additional $99 per year for a Compulife subscriber. A Compulife subscription is $199 per year, and so the total for the inexpensive web quote option is $298 per year.
In the simpler/cheaper version of the Internet quote system we do not allow subscribers to access the TEMPLATE.HTM files on our server because no one is allowed to touch the files on our server but us. That way, one customer making changes to their files can't possibly mess things up for other customers. Further, if someone messes up a TEMPLATE file so that it no longer works properly, we don't want to burn up large amounts of technical support time helping fix the problem. When someone buys the internet engine and pays more for it, there is more money to deal with the additional technical support that goes along with the additional flexibility, capability and options available with that product.
With regard to the cheaper quote version, we do allow a choice of template files from a library of 8 different files. So far, that seems to keep everyone happy with the exception of those who want something radically different, and that's where the more expensive internet engine comes into play.
All of that to say that we intend to move to .HTML template files in conjunction with the windows/desktop version of our program. What this means is that instead of formatting the look and feel of quotation/printouts within our software, printout format will be determined using .HTML template files. That means, moving forward, that if enterprising customers want to modify those formats, add graphics, color, etc., they will be able to do so on their own. It will simply require .HTML skills or hiring someone with those skills. Those are the same skills needed for web page development, and there are lots of reasons to have people like that, or to learn the skills yourself.
This also means the the windows version of our program will become more like the web version of the program, and the other way around. As rumors grow of the "cloud" replacing software on your local computer, we want to be in a place to eventually offer that option to our subscribers. Technically we are doing that now with the Mobile version of Compulife (free with your subscription) but we want to make the mobile version much more powerful, and much more like the Windows version of Compulife that you already use. This programming strategy will move us in that direction.
We can't say much more other than to assure you that these changes will put our software in an excellent position to adapt to the computer and software markets as they evolve. These changes will allow us to continue to offer software on as many different computers, devices, operating systems, etc., as come and go in the next decade or two.
Last month we shared with you that we had noticed a definite up-tick in the volume of www.term4sale.com consumer requests for agents. We feel that agent requests are continuing at a good pace.
Having said that, I recall two specific negative feedbacks from a couple of subscribers, and they seem to reflect expectations which are simply beyond what the site can or will do.
First, I had a subscriber call who indicated that he had been very happy with the contacts he had received in the first couple of months, then was unhappy because his flow had dropped off. During the lengthy exchange (which sucks up my time) I took a look at his paid listings. This subscriber had about 45 zip codes. I then took a look at his email contacts for the year (2014) and he had already had 12 different consumer contacts (in 2 months!).
As background for those who ask, we always advise that our general sense of performance is that for every 3 listings in a given year, it will result in an average of one email contact for insurance for that year. Of course that does not include phone contacts, which we know occur. That's where the consumer get the phone number from our site and calls the agent directly. We have no way to know that such a contact has occurred. Incidentally, we know that calls do happen because from time to time we get calls from those who have found our phone number on the site. In those cases we give the lists of subscribers and phone numbers. All this to say that we know some consumers prefer to call and do not use the email method of contact.
We believe, given our current pricing structure, that one in three is a good number. A subscriber with 45 listings could/should expect about 15 contacts for the entire year. This particular subscriber already had 12 for the year, and was expressing his unhappiness that the number had dropped off. I indicated that if he got 3 more contacts for the year, we would think that we had accomplished our objective for the entire year. I told him that if the pace of contacts continued at the rate that he had been experiencing, he could rest assured that listing fees would be heading dramatically upward.
Don't panic, that won't happen. This customer simply experienced an embarrassment of riches, and then decided to complain when his hot run of contacts ended.
All of this to say that "runs" or surges of contacts are normal. In sports it's commonly called a streak, in cards it's called being on a roll. Given that we are in Wildcat country, you will understand me when I say our team has had quite a streak in the NCAA tournament, and for a bunch of freshman, they have played over and above any reasonable expectation.
When the opposite occurs it's typically referred to as a slump. In the case of cards, such a slump is commonly called a "cold deck". Either way, because very few subscribers obtain the maximum number of zip codes allowed (400) they tend to see more surging in contact volume, periods when there are more, and periods when there are less. That is perfectly normal.
Everyone offering services on the internet is faced with the same problems and challeges. How do you make traffic grow, and how do you convert that traffic into tangible business results? A certain amount of it is science, and a great deal of it is beyond anyone's control.
So, I would encourage patience, particularly for those with smaller numbers of listings. In the end we consider the entire listing program a "value added" benefit of being a Compulife subscriber, and not an industry all its own.
A second expectation that I ran into this month was with a subscriber who did not like being listed with two other agents. I believe that the logic of this listing strategy is fairly well explained in the comparison results on the site, and in the advice offered on the listed agents page, but not everyone takes the time to read that. Rather than repeat it, I will simply suggest you take the time to read it.
At the end of the day we have no real oversight regarding agents listed at www.term4sale.com. All we can assure anyone is that they are licensed life insurance agents who purchase our comparison software. For the most part, people who buy our software are actively selling for more than one life insurance company, or why would they buy comparison software? After all, if you are an agent who is concerned with what products are available at what prices in the market, then we assume that you are marketing with an eye to being competitive. That is the sum total of our knowledge regarding subscribers.
By giving consumers a list of three agents it creates a competitive environment where agents have to be concerned that their advice and product recommendations will be cross examined by other agents who would prefer that the consumer take their advice and buy the products that they offer. We think this competition does a great deal to keep everyone on their toes, and makes sure that everyone puts their best foot forward. That is why we give consumers three agent and not just one agent's name and phone number.
To those who disagree with that strategy, which has served us well for a decade and a half, we can only affirm our commitment to that strategy. We are not looking to change it.