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"Why I Hate Shareware" by Troy H. Cheek on Jul 24, 2006
As with many a title I type, I realize as I type it that it isn't true. I don't hate shareware, having written a few shareware programs myself. I just hate some shareware authors.
In my thinking, the "average" shareware author is someone who can't find a good enough or cheap enough application to do what he needs to do and decides to write it himself. He shows it to a friend or two who tell him that they'd like to use it as well. Deciding that his friends aren't just blowing smoke, he releases the application to the world with the understanding that, if the world likes it, the world can send him a little money as a gesture of appreciation.
I sometimes believe that there aren't any "average" shareware authors out there anymore.
Instead, I encounter programs which claim to be shareware but have certain vital functions disabled. These are usually the very functions I'd have to see working to decide if I wanted to send in $40 for the full version, mind you. I can't rightly evaluate them, so into the bit bucket they go.
I also encounter programs which are fully functional, but only for a limited time or number of runs. If I install the program on Monday and don't get around to actually fiddling with it until the following Monday, I'll usually discover that the trial period only lasted a week. If the darn thing hangs just as I get to the function I want to check, causing me to re-start the application 20 times, I'll usually discover that the trial period only lasts 21.
Then, of course, there are the whiny shareware authors who bemoan the fact that they can't make a living off the program they wrote. "Half a gazillion people have downloaded my program, yet none have sent donations. You're all a bunch of ungrateful bastards living off the fruits of my labor!"
In at least one case, I was one of the gazillion who downloaded the program because the product description was, to put it mildly, wildly inaccurate. I failed to send in a donation for much the same reason. Plus, I dislike installers that BSOD because I don't have exactly 512MB of physical RAM.
I once sent a greeting card to France because the author of a shareware program said that this was the way he wanted us to show our appreciation. The card was returned due to incorrect address, which was funny as I'd copied it from the 'info' box of the shareware in question. I heard later that the author stopped developing the program because he never got any feedback about it. Go figure.
If I listen to the shareware plea and send in a donation to encourage the author to continue development of a particular piece of shareware, you can bet money that the version I downloaded is the last version that will ever be released. Or when the new version is released, you'll find that it's an "upgrade" and not an "update" so if you use it, you're expected to donate again.
Which leads me to a story which will illustrate the point of this article.
A few years back, I found myself in need of a good video editor. I didn't care for the one which was bundled with my videocard, so I searched around for a shareware one. (Nowadays, I'd search for a FOSS one, but I predate that and a lot of other common terms.) I eventually found one. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to it as the Hurricane Video Audio Converter. HVAC for short.
The original HVAC was what I call shareware back in the day. It was fully functional and we could use it all we wanted for free, but the author would gladly accept the donation of money or computer equipment. HVAC was occasionally updated, even after it was made obsolete by the author's other programs. The author promised that the new features from the other programs would eventually find their way to HVAC. He also promised the HVAC would always be free.
Enter HVAC Advanced. HVAC Advanced was just like the old HVAC except that, you guessed it, it was more advanced. It had several new features, some of which were actually useful. I just so happened to have recently developed a need for one of those features, so I tried out HVAC Advanced. I was quite happy with it until a week later when the advanced features stopped working. I read the resulting error box and discovered that my options were to wait until the advanced features finally filtered down to the free HVAC or I could pay a small fee to "register" with the author.
If I was reading the plea for money correctly, I was most definitely not paying $19 (or whatever it was) to register the program. Instead, I was paying $19 to register myself. Once I had my serial number (generated by the key which was my name) I would be able to use it in HVAC Advanced, any future versions of HVAC Advanced, and any potential new programs the author might produce. That seemed like a pretty good deal to me, so I sent in a check.
About the time the check cleared, the final version of HVAC Advanced was released. Oh, it wasn't billed as the final version. In fact, a few more "versions" have been released since, but these were in reality minor bug fixes and did not incorporate any new advances or features as all the previous versions had. HVAC Advanced was, for all intents and purposes in general and for the particular inents and purposes of my $27, as dead as the original HVAC.
Why? Because the shareware author had gone professional. Enter HVAC Pro, the commercial replacement and upgrade for HVAC Advanced, which was in turn the shareware replacement and upgrade for plain old HVAC.
I downloaded HVAC Pro and tried my serial number. Invalid format. I checked around and discovered that the author was now saying that said serial number only worked for his shareware products. Since HVAC Pro was a commercial product, I'd have to purchase it outright.
Well, actually, there was a demo verson of HVAC Pro which would (mostly) work for a week, after which you could pay a fee it register and unlock the full feature set. The serial number you would receive after registering for $39 could be used in any future commercial software by the same author.
Until HVAC Pro 2 came out, at which time we were told that it was an "upgrade" and not an "update" and as such required its own registration fee.
Just when I thought things couldn't get any sillier, the author announced the new HVAC Extreme. You didn't have to worry about the serial number. That's because HVAC Extreme would contact the author via the Internet at regular intervals to confirm that you were allowed to use his program.
The authors reasoning for such an extreme and unpopular action was that people had been downloading the free HVAC for years and most users weren't paying for it. I thought it odd that he was complaining about this as I thought we were free to do so if we wanted. He further specified that most of the people who downloaded the shareware HVAC Advanced did not register it, instead choosing to use the reduced feature set of the non-registered version or simply (gasp!) doing all their converting during that free week of full feature use. Which, again, I thought he had been telling us we were welcome to do. Finally, he opined that a great number of people were using multiple copies of HVAC Pro with the same serial number, or using hacks and cheats that allowed them to use their HVAC Pro serial number to access the full feature set of HVAC Pro 2. Again, something I was under the impression he had told us we could do.
Hence his decision that HVAC Extreme require online product activation. As the main reason I am still using Windows 2000 rather than Windows XP on my main computer is that I do not trust online product activation, I chose not to purchase HVAC Extreme.
Besides which, somewhere along the way the author apparently stopped using HVAC himself and just started programming for the sake of raking in registration fees because the programs kept getting harder to use and seemed to feature fewer actually useful functions. I ended up using HVAC Advanced for most of my converting needs because some of my favorite features were harder to use or just plain missing from the later programs.
To top it all off, I remind you of the original HVAC. Remember the free program? The one you could use for free if you wanted or send in a donation if that was your choice? I'm told that it's no longer available on the author's website and that his lawyer sends nasty letters to other people who make it available for download.
And he wonders why people don't want to send him any money.
Copyright 2006 by Troy H. Cheek. Reprint with prior written permission only. Comments and questions to
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|This page last updated on Jul 25, 2006 by Troy H. Cheek|