Shareware Beach

Monday, 18 July 2005

Microsoft and Shareware

Filed under: Conferences,Shareware Industry — Jan @ 12:14

It’s interesting to see the shift in Microsoft’s attitude towards the little independent developers. Three years ago at the SIC in Saint Louis, Microsoft did send a representative. But all that guy did was tout the .NET framework and Visual Studio.NET, like he probably does at numerous developer conferences.

Last year, and again this year, Microsoft provided the ESWC with a free booth at their Tech-Ed conference in Amsterdam. They’re also sponsering the ESWC itself.

This year, Microsoft sent three representatives to the SIC. They showcased the “Microsoft shareware starter kit”. Basically it’s an open source package that .NET developers can use to turn a piece of software into a try-before-you-buy shareware package, complete with registration/activation and payment processing. While I’m not convinced of the usefulness of the kit, at least in its present state, it’s good to see Microsoft is again paying attention to the little guy.

I also like the fact that Microsoft doesn’t shy away from using the word “shareware” instead of contrived terms like “micro-ISV”. The representatives mentioned several times during the sessions how Microsoft “is and has been in the shareware business” since forever, citing Windows XP as an example shareware product. Technically they’re correct. I did get a 120-day trial of Windows XP around the time it was first released.

Microsoft even won two awards at the annual Shareware Industry Awards, announced at a banquet at the end of the SIC. MS Office 2003 won the people’s choice award for best business application, while Windows Media Player won the industry award for best multimedia application. I still wish the SIA would promote the little guy.

Hopefully other tool companies, like Borland, will take notice. While Borland has changed its name back from Inprise, they still seem to be mostly focused on enterprise sales. The reason they gave for their latest earnings warning was that they increasingly depend on million-dollar-plus deals.

However, I’m not going to ditch Delphi in favor of Visual Studio just yet. The main reason is that the Windows monopoly is showing cracks. Linux has a strong presence in the server market. Mac users are envied rather than ridiculed. Apple’s move to switch to Intel chips may shake things up. The odds that Borland is going to support these operating systems are still better than that Microsoft will, even if Borland has pretty much abandoned Kylix.

Tuesday, 3 May 2005

Innovation or The Usual Suspects

Filed under: Shareware Industry — Jan @ 21:07

It’s that time of the year again, where the shareware industry collectively pats itself on the back at the annual Shareware Industry Awards presented at the Shareware Industry Conference. Every year, I feel like it’s a missed opportunity.

Most people seem to nominate and vote for products that they’ve either been using for a long time, or products that have been created by people they like on a personal level. There’s nothing wrong with patting your buddies on the back for a job well done. But to me, it seems like the shareware awards could be so much more. Instead of congratulating ourselves, we could be promoting the shareware industry as a whole.

Giving awards is nice for those who win. Promoting the industry helps everybody, including those that are still laboring away at their future first release, and those that haven’t even written the first line of code yet. Incidentally, many such people attend the SIC every year. It’s a great way to get started!

Since I don’t want to offend anybody, I’ll use my own products to illustrate my point. None of them have ever been nominated for or won any shareware awards.

Take EditPad Pro. EditPad has been around in various editions since forever (1996), lots of people use it, and its a solid product. Many such products win awards every year. But why? There’s a million text editors out there. Even if EditPad Pro is the very best of them all (it is according to many of my customers; others might disagree), why should it get an award? How does the shareware industry benefit if it does? Nobody is going to get excited over it. No journalist is going to write a front page article about it.

What if we nominated and voted for innovative products, new stuff? Show them what our industry is capable of. Show them that innovation often comes from the little guys, not the big established companies. That would give people something to talk and write about. That might create some buzz and raise awareness. Probably not a lot for a single event, but ten years in a row, the awards may become an event that outsiders look forward to. (When Eric Sink comments in an MSDN atricle about winning an award that he’d never even heard of, that’s quite telling.)

There’s plenty of innovation going on in the shareware industry that we can put in the spotlight for a day to raise the profile of the whole industry. Take RegexBuddy. It’s a product almost in a class of its own. No shareware download site has a category for it that comes even close. While there are a handful of other tools out there that make it easier to test regular expressions, none of them offer the full spectrum of features to help you through the whole process, from creating, to testing, implementing and saving.

Or take PowerGREP. UNIX grep was created before I was born. That’s nothing new. Yet, I don’t know of any other Windows grep tool that allows you to combine up to three sequences (each with a specific role) of an unlimited number of regular expressions to execute a search, search-and-replace, or collect data. That may sound complicated, but it actually makes PowerGREP easier to use in many situations. With PowerGREP, you can use numerous trivial regular expressions instead of one huge cryptic regex that does it all.

I’ll be the first to admit that both RegexBuddy and PowerGREP appeal to a limited (geeky) audience. That’s why there’s plenty of categories to nominate products in for the Shareware Industry Awards. I promised not to use other people’s products as examples, so I’ll leave finding more innovative products as an exercise to the reader.

Perhaps that’s where the real problem lies. Finding innovative products to nominate, particularly innovative products that you don’t have a need for yourself, takes quite some time and effort. Nominating the usual suspects is much easier.

Still, I feel it’s a missed chance to spotlight our industry. I would love to see the whole nomination and voting process revamped to focus on innovation. Perhaps fewer categories. Perhaps a restriction on older programs and/or previous winners. Certainly a message to voters that promoting the industry, not patting our buddies on the back, will pay the biggest dividents for us all.

Saturday, 19 March 2005

Way To Go, Steve

Filed under: Shareware Industry — Jan @ 16:59

Digital River’s press release is out:

MINNEAPOLIS–March 18, 2005–Digital River, Inc. today announced it acquired SWReg, a provider of e-commerce services for software authors. Under the terms of the agreement, Digital River acquired certain assets and assumed certain liabilities, vendor contracts and intellectual property of SWReg for $8.8 million in cash.

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Digital River Acquires SWREG

Filed under: Shareware Industry — Jan @ 21:59

How ironic. Just yesterday, I finally got around to publishing the long overdue privacy policy. In an attempt to increase customer confidence with transparency, I wrote:

SWREG has a solid reputation in the software industry for providing reliable and honest services. [...] Jan Goyvaerts (owner of JGsoft) and Steve Lee (owner of SWREG) are personally acquainted.

This morning I logged onto the SWREG control panel. I was greeted by a message from Steve Lee saying he’d sold the business. Privacy policy invalidated one day after publishing. Must be some kind of record.

Anyway, I perfectly understand Steve’s motives for selling. I wish him the best of luck and lots of fun driving his oversized buses (or having them driven) all over the place. I guess we won’t be engaging in friendly banter at shareware conferences any more.

SWREG’s open policy and the willingness of Steve and his employees to candidly talk about their business, including screw-ups, always made me feel confident using their services for the most vital part of my business (or any business for that matter): taking money from customers. This candor will be the first casualty of the acquisition. Digital River is publicly traded. They’re tied by strict laws when it must say what, and when it musn’t say what.

It’s not the end of the world though. JGsoft will continue using SWREG’s services for the foreseeable future. I really like the way their “advanced level” system works. Though it’s a bit of work to set up and maintain, it’s incredibly flexible. None of their competitors offer something similar. Hopefully, Digital River will recognize the value of this technology, and position SWREG as the hands-on-total-control flavor of their portfolio of services, rather than the low-cost flavor. Not that I’d mind keeping the grandfathered $1 + 4% rates. :-)

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