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Faced with shrinking profit margins and increasing support demands from customers, software makers are reconsidering their free support offerings and supplanting them with a dizzying array of paid support options.
Although few software companies have actually eliminated free support, many now limit the amount of support they provide and are dropping toll-free phone numbers. At the same time, publishers such as Microsoft Corp., WordPerfect Corp., and Lotus Development Corp. are offering "premium" support services that promise faster response time, additional support methods, and more personalized service -- for a price.
The goal, publishers say, is to make customers who require a lot of support pay their fair share and to provide corporate customers with additional incentives to remain loyal. But critics wonder whether free support will soon vanish.
On the surface, it makes sense to shift costs to those who actually use the …