There's been A LOT of discussion about Red-Gate's decision to start charging for .NET Reflector. For those of you tuning in, here's a really compressed history:
Lutz Roeder created .NET Reflector many years ago (full history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.NET_Reflector)
I venture to guess that the majority of professional .NET developers use the tool.
Red-Gate bought Reflector in 2008 (I remember because I saw Neil Davidson at the Business of Software Conference in Boston and asked him about it).
Reflector has been free, or had a free version available for its life thusfar.
Red-Gate announced yesterday that they'd start charging for Reflector in March with no free version available (as far as I can tell). The price that replaces "free": $35.
Lots of people are going apeshit about a tool that used to be free no longer being free.
That brings us up to speed. For some fascinating reading, check out the Red-Gate Reflector Forum. I'm being serious here. It isn't often that you get to see so many diverse thoughts, opinions, and expressions of outrage in one place. ANY marketing person, product manager, executive, or entrepreneur would be wise to read the forum posts and comments for a mixture of warnings, lessons, and insight into the community/customer mind.
For my part, I don't have a strong opinion about whether Red-Gate is right or wrong on this matter and that's actually not what this post is about. This post (like many other posts) is about behavior and action. While I can't make Reflector free for everyone, I figure I can make it free for 10 people. I've made enough money doing development work and consulting while using Reflector that $350 seems like a reasonable price for me to pay. At the same time, I know that there are lots of folks out there doing good work that can't pay $35.
Post a comment about why you want a copy of Reflector by Sunday, Februrary 6th. I'll pick 10 and buy each a $35 license of Reflector 7 upon its release.
If Red-Gate (or anyone else) should decide to match the offer, then the freebies go up from there.
UPDATE: Just got off the phone with Red-Gate and they've offered to match with 50 licenses (I'm still paying for the first 10 so I now have a total of 60 to give away). As such, I'm extending the deadline through Friday, February 11th.
FINAL UPDATE: I was pleasantly surprised when Red Gate initially offered the additional 50 licenses, but I was blown away when I talked to them again and they offered another 50 for a total of 100. Not only that, but they said that rather than wait for V7 to be released that they are going to be giving Reflector Pro licenses (the $95 one), which will convert to the Reflector VS license when version 7 is released! I'll be emailing the folks who get a license on Saturday 2/12 and Sunday 2/13. Licenses should arrive on Monday 2/14 or Tuesday 2/15. Thanks to everyone who commented! BTW, if you missed the cutoff I see that Dan Maharry is giving away Reflector 7 licenses on his blog.
*-as-a-Service is all the rage these days. Everywhere you turn you see Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and Infrastructure-as-a-Service. It reminds me of the late 90s when everything was Internet, Intranet, and Extranet – you know, back when it was so new and important that we capitalized the words.
Even though we're seeing some serious overuse, my problem isn't with the terms it's that the root words are incorrectly swapped around so much that folks have a hard time thinking about them correctly. Sometimes everything is lumped into SaaS since it was first. Other times Platform and Infrastructure are used synonymously. My goal here isn't to introduce you to SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS . . . chances are you have an idea of what these are if you read this blog. Instead, my goal is to show you a way to think about them to know what fits where including a 2-part value proposition of each. This is especially important if you're building software that falls into one of these 3 groups.
Unless you work for Amazon, Rackspace, GoGrid, or one of the other big providers chances are good that you're not building IaaS. Infrastructure is just that: the foundation where you run your system. This service is all about providing you infrastructure components like servers and networking goodies such as load balancers, firewalls, and VPNs. The "service" part of it is the management software that lets you click (or programmatically call) to provision new resources. Click: new server. Click: new network segment. You get the idea. The important takeaway here is that you are renting infrastructure that lets you do what you want, but it's pretty much up to you to make it do something valuable. The 2-part value proposition of IaaS is that you can rent infrastructure instead of buying it and that someone who is better than you will be running it, provided you go with a quality provider.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have Software-as-a-Service. SaaS should do something of value immediately after you sign up for it. Sure, there may be some customization involved but the bulk of a valuable problem should be solved by the software that you're renting. If you work for a software startup, then there's a good chance that you're working on a SaaS product or that there will be a SaaS version of your product offered in the near future (either by your company or a new competitor). The SaaS 2-part value proposition is that you only have to pay for software you use and you have a solution to the problem that's better than what you can build in the time you have. That last part is especially important since if you can't find something worthwhile to rent, then you've just stumbled upon a great market opportunity (or you're awful at using Google, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt).
This is actually the term that's been stuck in my head and led to this post. PaaS should let you build something of value after signing up. It's a step away from infrastructure in that you don't have to worry about the underlying servers and networking, but it's also a step from being SaaS because it doesn't do anything of general value until you get to work. I think that a lot of the confusion around the term can be credited to the success of Salesforce.com. They started as a SaaS offering and then created the first really successful PaaS offering (while continuing to offer plenty of SaaS goodness). Their hosted Customer Relationship Management system is often cited as the first successful SaaS product. Later they created Force.com which lets developers build new applications on top of their infrastructure. Another factor that contributes to confusion about what constitutes PaaS is the use of the word "platform", one of the most nebulous terms in the tech industry. I think that Architecture-as-a-Service may be a more accurate (though not necessarily better) description because what you're paying for is someone else's solutions to common development tasks. Instead of worrying about collecting data, storing it, retrieving it, searching for it, etc., you use the provided platform – its architecture. The 2-part value proposition is that you can use the platform to build software without having to solve all of the problems common to software development.
To give a little perspective, I'm currently working on a PaaS system that will be used to create several SaaS products. I'm using IaaS (Amazon EC2) for testing and production deployment. So I rent from Amazon and others rent from me. The spread between what I pay and what I charge is dependent upon my solutions to both development problems (the PaaS layer) and business problems (the SaaS apps).
I despise cable TV providers with a raging passion. Getting cable is unpleasant. Using the cable box is a nightmare. The quality is spotty at best. And I'm referring to all of the technologies: standard cable, IPTV (I'm looking at you, U-verse), satellite, you name it. And don't get me started on the impossible to read bills. All-in-all, premium television providers have a terrible user experience.
But that's not what prompted me to write this.
I went to the EZ-Tag Store this morning. This is the place where the Harris County Toll Road Authority sells the RFID windshield stickers that allow Houstonians, such as myself, to pay road tolls at 70 MPH. I've loved the EZ-Tag system since I moved here from Baltimore 4 years ago. To me, it's tolls done right: You don't have to slow down, there are plenty of EZ-Tag-only lanes, there are toll-only roads, etc.
Today I needed to replace my sticker so I went to the store. I peeled my existing sticker off, walked in, and had my replacement in about 5 minutes. Then I looked at the sticker they gave me. Not only did it have an alcohol wipe paperclipped to the tag so I could clean my windshield, but the place where it was clipped had the corner of the backing peeled back a little to make exposing the sticky side a breeze. It gave me the feeling that someone went through the process of applying the sticker and took note of what could be done to make it easier.
Clean the windshield? Check. Peel the backing off? Check. Okay, what's next? Hmm, how do I know it's working?
As I looped around the parking lot I saw a sign that said EZ-Tag Test Lane. Sure enough there was a 3 carlength section of parking lot with guide posts and an EZ-Tag reader with a light at the end. I pulled up, the light turned green, and I was on my way.
The rest of the drive to my office I marveled at how well the EZ-Tag experience was designed compared to so many others. And this was for tolls! Take a look at your product or service from your user's perspective and ask yourself if your experience is as pleasant as paying tolls. Chances are you can find several "little" ways to set yourself apart.