March 26, 2004
Pirates, Licenses, Activation, and so on [part 2]
last time I rambled on a bit about some of the business decisions and the ramifications of them that we have made over the last few years at westciv.
One of the points of this blog, and that post, was to put into some kind of human context the courses, software, and all the great free stuff we provide at the house of style.
[by the way, apologies for typos, I am writing from an internet cafe, and straight into the blog software which has no spell checker]
None of these are provided cynically. Maxine and I believe firmly in standards based web development, and in making it easier through software, courses, workshops, and resources. Sure, we aren't a charity, but we aren't a company which solely focusses on the bottom line either. We do what we believe is important, what we enjoy, what we are good at, and what we hope will benefit web developers, students, educators and maybe even the web a little bit too.
A big part of that philosophy has always been pricing. While often Style Master is used as a professional tool, at $59.99 for a copy of style master, that's not much more than an hour's charge for a web developer (and in many cases quite a bit less).
Rarely do people tell us that they think the software is too expensive. Often they tell us it is too cheap.
On top of that, Style Master can be downloaded and used commercially, in a completely unrestricted way for 30 days, and then indefinitely with some limitations after that.
It has these restrictions only to encourage people to purchase the soaftware if they continue using it. Research and personal experience show that without such restrictions, the rate of purchase is dramatically lower than when these measures are introduced.
I guess when software becomes sucessful, which often equates to being well known, and probably not nearly as financially successful as many would suppose, it is easily to lose sight of the fact that much of the very useful software people use everyday, outside the DreamWeaver, Photoshop, Flash league is the work of one or two hard working developers, like Maxine and me.
It's always a dilemma for people like us. Do we want to be seen as a big software company, which often carries with it the sense of security that an application is there for the long haul (not that I believe the fact that an app comes from a big company guarantees it's longevity), or do we want to be seen as a very personal company, with the passion, commitment and dedication that is often associated with smaller, more focussed companies.
I guess we sometimes have a bit of an each way bet. Our blogs are very personal, yet we don't try to be too folksy when it comes to our site and our software. I guess it might be interesting to get some readers' impressions of westciv.
Where is all this leading? Well, as you might have guessed, to a discussion of "piracy" [a pretty loaded word, and one I probably should avoid in favour of "unlicensed reproduction and use" or some such].
In the last few weeks, since the release of Style Master 3.5, this has become a real issue for us. Not that it hasn't been before, but this month it is going to cost us quite a bit of money in terms of downloads being referred straight from crack sites. So I think it is about time to sit down and have a frank discussion of this issue. It's a complicated one on quite a few levels - legally, ethically, technically, and even in business terms.
And I'll turn to it in my next post in a day or two.
March 24, 2004
Pirates, Licenses, Activation, and so on [part 1]
Maxine and I have been developing and selling software online for coming up to a decade.
When we first floated the idea of being solely online based, back in 1995, as we were developing Palimpsest, our hypertext driven knowledge management system, people we spoke to in the industry thought we were mad. One senior person from a very big hardware/software company we spoke with at a conference at the end of 1995 said somethign along the lines of "shareware failed, peopel will never buy software off the internet". Suffice to say they sell a lot of Hardware and software online now.
We made areally intelligent and far sighted decision back then (mind you, as much by luck as anything else) because above all it meant we maintained control over our destiny.
Let's take a little look at how software marketing and distribution worked back then.
There were two kinds of software. Commercial and shareware. These were in many ways as different as chalk and cheese. The difference begins with distribution, but ends with two entirely different consequences for the entire industry.
With shareware, distribution was anarchic, reliant on bulletin boards, floppy disks on magazine covers, and a samizdat like sharing of software among friends and user groups.
Payment was very much dependent on an honor system. So much so that it was considered unethical to copy protect, feature or time limit your software.
Until the mid 90s or even later, the internet played only a small part in the distribution channel. Download.com, znet's download site, and the most famous Tucows only really got going then. Kagi, who had been a byword for Mac sharware payment systems really only started providing online based payments in 1996 or so.
In short, shareware was the domain of the enthusiast, both for developers and for customers.
Developers got control over their software, a direct relationship with their users, the ability to decide what their software did, how it didi it, when it was released, and whether to continue with it. And they got 100% of their revenues, minus costs, which were quite minimal in many ways.
However, my guess is very few got a professional income out of it. Like Open Source software, I believe it was as much about the community for many developers as it was about the money.
The other side of the equation was commercial distribution.
The Holy Grail was to get in the "channel" - shrink wrapped software in the thousands of computer and electronic stores. Coverage in the press (much of which would not even review shareware.)
But getting in the channel was basically prohibitively expensive - reproduction costs for disks, printing and packaging costs, advertising, and the significant costs of renting retail shelf space (you don't think retail stores ake their money out of actually selling stuff do you?). Stores and chains bought on a asale or return basis, usually withholding a percentage of the sale cost as insurance against returns.
So small developers, to get into the channel, had to do a publishing deal with software publishing companies.
As with musicians, authors and other creative types, a lot of control was lost over most aspects of your software, right down to if it was discontinued, in return for perhaps 5% of revenues. So if your software sold for $200, you got $10.
Let's say there are just 2 of you. To make a decent professional income, let's say $50,000 (sure it sounds like a fair bit of money, but if you have the skills to actually get a fully functional piece of software onto the market, then you should be able to get a decent management level job, and they tend to pay a bit better than that).
So, to make $100,000 you'd need to sell 10,000 copies of software. That is a lot of software. And to make it worth the whle of the years you put in getting there, you'd have to sell that for a few years.
Any wonder why the big companies publish most of the software you see on shelves?
Now people this is not sour grapes, or a moan. It's filling you in ona bit of background as to why we went they way we did.
We wanted control over our software. We wanted to take the risks and get the rewards. We wanted to take responsibility for its performance, its features, and its success or otherwise. So we chose the road of "shareware". Of course, these days almost any software is available in some sort of shareware form (even if it involves a 250MB download :-)
So why talk about all this? Well, just to get some ideas down about how damn difficult it is to get a great piece of software developer and onto the market, to get a good base of users for it, and to put food on your table doing it.
Because next installment I am going to talk about piracy, how it affects us, and why it is not OK.
Stay tuned, and thanks for all the support we have got over the years. We'll coninue to reward it
March 20, 2004
Far away [so close]
One of my favourite U2 songs, and the name of a marvellous if flawed (sums up his career by and large except for Wings of Desire) Wim Wenders film.
But what is the point?
As you may know, I have been involved in lifesaving competitions of late. We got second by a tiny amount in the NSW State Championships (our competition was curtailed by very big surf, and our strongest event was reduced, probably handicappingus more than any other team).
This did however qualify us for the national Championships (only 9 teams qualify from the whole of Australia)
so for the last few days I have been on the Gold Coast of Queensland Australia, competing in the Australian Championships.
Two years ago we qualified and got hammered, innocents that we were. This year we got Fourth, one place short of a medal, butsomething of which we are very proud.
I'm taking the next week off, surfing on the North Coast of NSW, but will be still doing a bit of work. I'll post once or twice, about Piracy among other things, as right now that is a big issue for us. You know you have made it in the software world when you get hamered by software pirates. But for now, still recovering from our competition.
March 10, 2004
Style Master 3.5 Redux
Ok, it's been a week since Style Master 3.5 was released. I thought I'd recap what's happened in that busy week, as well as some of the great things people have said.
First up, in terms of upgrades and new users, downloads, and feedback, from both users and the "press" this has been without doubt the standout release of Style Master.
As you can see from a couple of posts to the blog this week, some problems with the app surfaced when thousands of people started using it. We had over 100 beta testers, but they don't necessarily catch everything).
We should have a release in the next day or so to fix the problems reported.
First up, there are some peoples' opinions you rate very highly indeed.
When Jeffrey Zeldman says "outfrickinstanding!!!" then you can pat yourself on the back :-)
Westciv’s StyleMaster 3.5 is going to seduce both the novice user as well as the confirmed stylesheet expert. Style Master 3.5 has an intuitive and complete interface
These wizards are great tools to learn CSS by example but also a valuable timesaver for more experienced coders
and more. Check out the full review.
User too loved it. Even people who have been using Style master for years have said things like
"I had the pleasure of beta testing, but you deserve to be paid for your work..."
"Thank you the upgrade looks wonderful"
So if you have downloaded Style master 3.5, and are enjoying it, you are in good company.
Love to hear what you have to say about it.
Stay tuned for a few more general CSS posts, one of the Fahrner (and other) Image Replacement techniques, and one on some of the people important to the success of CSS, who may not always get the recognition they deserve.
March 08, 2004
Mac bug - navbar and breadcrumb wizards
For the moment there is a bug that will cause a crash in the Navbar and Breadcrumb wizards on the Mac.
If in Step 8 of the Navbar wizard, or step 7 of the Breadcrumb wizard you select a page or site to link the new style sheet to, then when you ok the wizard after the final step, you will crash Style Master
To work around this, don't link to a site or page using the wizard. You will still create a new Style sheet, which you can link to the site or pages you want using the Link item of the File menu (once the style sheet is saved)
I'll have this fixed in the next couple of days
Windows bug: Run-time error '339' Component 'GraphicsMil20Dialogs.dll'
if you are having the followin problem on Windows when you run the appliation
Run-time error '339' Component 'GraphicsMill20Dialogs.dll' or one of its dependencies not correctly registered: a file is missing or invalid
then we should have that fixed very soon, but a work around is to wdowmload and instal
It should fix the problem.
It is most likely to show up on older versions.
Mac bug, fix in a day or two
there is a Mac bug when editing color or background color using the editors for these properties. If you edit a color after a statement already has a background color, then sometimes, the background color is changed, not the text color.
if you use the color editor to add a color, it may in some circumstances replace the background-color rather than adding a color.
It will be fixed in the next couple of days.
Keep aneye out for a new download
Style [master] is not everything
I really enjoy getting to know a little about the background of the bloggers I read. One I find particularly interesting is Design by Fire, where Andrei Herasimchuk mixes up his expertise on interface design with stuff on poker. Now I am a terrible card player, and worse gambler (fortunately not one of my vices) but I find it fascinating to learn about something I know little to nothing about told in a personal and well written way.
Which I my way of asking you to indulge you in few moments recollections of my weekend.
If you've read a few of my posts going back, you might know I am involved in Surf LifeSaving [yes i know their site is horrendously inaccessible and doesn't even render in Safari, I am hassling them about it] here in Australia. LifeSaving is a volunteer movement with over 100,000 members, more than 30,000 of whom are active providing surf patrols at most beaches in Australia (think about that for a moment) during the summer on weekends and on public holidays.
I have been quite heavily involved in education, lifesaving, and competition for a few years now.
This weekend just gone was the NSW State LifeSaving Championships.
I competed in two events, the Champion LifeSaver and Champion Patrol. These are competitions which challenge you physically, as well as test your knowledge and ability in practical lifesaving, such as resuscitation, and beach patrolling.
I was also really honored to be one of 5 finalists for the NSW Lifesaver of the Year.
In the Champion Lifesaver event, I got 8th in the state, and given I am now 37, I am pretty happy to match it up with people up to 20 years younger than me. I even managed to dislocate a finger in one surf race, put the joint back in, complete the race, and get 3rd out of 16 competitors. By the time I tell the grand kids it will be my leg coming off or worse I am sure :-)
In the Champion Patrol team event we got second by .17 points out of a possible 100. Congratulations to Manly on their Gold Medal. The conditions were very testing, a 2-3m swell (read BIG), and lots of sea weed. One of our events, a relay in the surf, was canceled on safety grounds. I was rather looking forward to the challenge.
We did however qualify for the Australian Titles (only 1 and 2 Qualify). We hope to do well there.
News soon, on the release of Style Master and the many fine things users, testers and gurus have said about it.
March 03, 2004
Style Master 3.5 released
I'll write more soon inwhat be one of the busiest weeks of my life, but a quick note to let you know that Style Master 3.5 has been released for both Mac OS X and Windows 95 through XP.
I won't say any more right now other than do yourself a favour and download it. Its fully functional for 30 days, then you can continue to use it as a basic CSS editor for ever after that!
Maybe even drop us a note and let us know what you think as a comment below :-)