The Shareware Dilemma

Shareware trial strategies are tricky. Do you give the punters 30 days to try out the product? Sixty days, like Buzz’s ActiveWords (another gratuitous plug; you’re going to have to start paying me, Buzz)? Or do you cripple (I hate the word; hobble is better) the software in some way so the user isn’t going to get full benefit until they cough up? Or nagware, where you just keep firing popups at the user until they give in?

I think the time-limited, full-featured approach is best. First off, a lot of software is downloaded for a specific task: removing duplicate entries in a PDA, say. While this may mean the punter is going to only use it once, since the task is specific and the software may not be needed again, I think it’s a mistake to limit the functionality of the software (in the case of removing duplicates, to a number of duplicates found, as does UnDupe). This merely leaves the user frustrated, since their immediate goal is not satisfied, and requires them to take a leap of faith to buy the software in the hope it will do the job it promises, namely removing all the duplicate entries.

Time-limited, full-featured is best because it lets the user get used to the product, see it in all its shining glory, and then decide. ActiveWords uses 60 days, Buzz says, because he realises that getting into the product may take longer than normal software. But there’s another element here: a lot of people download software, play around with it and then forget about it. Then they are reminded of it for some reason, perhaps finding a shortcut to it sitting on their desktop, and then fire it up in the hope of remembering what it was. I just tried that with ConnectedText, a program I cannot recall installing. Certainly I cannot recall what it did. (Looking at the website I remember now: A pretty cool personal Wiki.)

Trouble is, ConnectedText works only for 30 days. Thereafter you can’t run the program, and instead get a link to the product’s homepage. As I only played with it once, there’s no way I’m going to shell out the $30 for the full version, and yet without a lot of pleading with the developer or scratching around in the Registry there’s no way I’m going to get a chance to play with it some more. ConnectedText is now uninstalled and I guess I’m never going to know now whether it was worth the moolah.

I think a wiser approach for ConnectedText, and any other time-limited shareware trial, is to be flexible when the time limit expires. I bet that a lot more users would cough up if they were allowed more time. Perhaps a popup could say, “do you need more time? We can give you another month, if you tell us why you need it.” Or “We can give you another month, but please fill out this form first so we know you’re not just a cheapskate” or somesuch. I have seen a few examples of this, or something like this, approach. It’s good. It’s flexible, and it builds bridges with users.

The problem is not that a month is not long enough to try something out, it’s that most of us are too busy and too easily distracted to remember to test out the software in the time allotted. We want to support shareware, but not all of us have the luxury or attention span to do the legwork according to the developer’s timeframe.

Top 10 Windows Software, May 15 2005


I check out a lot of software in a week. Not as much as I could, but probably more than I should. A few months back I set up a list of my favourites, but I recently realised I haven’t updated the list that much. So to force myself to do so, I thought I would try to write a weekly post updating the software I used most frequently, or which I am most impressed with. The software needn’t necessarily be new, just stuff that works and continues to work for me. I’m not going to include the obvious, such as Firefox. (For now this is just for Windows, but I’ll try to do something for Macs once I’m reunited with my Mac.)

Here’s this week’s top 10:

  1. Text Monkey
    Easily clean copied text. Don’t understand how other people survive without this.
  2. Skype
    How did we ever manage without it? Cheap phone calls, quality conversations with other Skype users.
  3. MyInfo
    Into its third version, and despite some teething troubles a remarkable vision of where freeform databases could go.
  4. Stick
    Some folk I know well swear by this little thing. Post-It note-like tabs to store text, folders etc that cling to the edge of your screen.
  5. Anagram
    Still an important part of my day, taking people’s email signatures and turning them into something my PIM can understand
  6. Trillian IM Client
    Yes, I know there are others, but I love this IM aggregator. Gathers all your instant messaging accounts in one window.
  7. HotRecorder
    Excellent way to record Skype conversations. Great way to label and store old conversations too.
  8. ActiveWords
    Even if you only use 10% of its features, you’re still ahead. A way to access everything without ever leaving the keyboard.
  9. TaskTracker
    Lists recent documents by type for easy access. It should be higher but I’ve noticed more recent versions seem to suck up resources more than the earlier one.
  10. MessageTag
    Some people hate the idea of having someone know when they open someone’s email, but the complaints have been few and far between, and it saves me a lot of sitting around and wondering.

As ever, I’d love to hear love to hear from people who disagree, agree, or just have more suggestions.

A Way To Filter Spam In Outlook (And Who The Hell Are Behind It?)

There’s a lot of software out there, but who is really behind it?

Reading a piping fresh press release from a company that may or may not be called FlowRuler, which has just released a product called, er, FlowRuler, I tried to find out a bit more about who was behind it (FlowRuler, by the way, looks like an interesting tool if you use Microsoft Outlook email. It is an add-in that enables you to “filter SPAM and organize your inbox” using “graphically designed rules”. There are two versions available: a free shareware version and the full version ($22.95). More here.

Now, back to who is behind this. I’ve noticed a growing number of press releases that appear without any details on company name, location, or whatever. Many of them turn out to be in Eastern Europe, or the former Soviet Union. That’s OK with me, but why go to such trouble to hide where you’re from?

The folk behind FlowRuler are a mystery. The website was registered in Cordoba, Argentina by an outfit called Ginkgosoft, but they don’t seem to exist as far as I can see (although I did find out that Ginkgo is a tree, the world’s oldest living species, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 4,000 years. Ginkgo soft capsules are apparently effective in improving memory, alleviating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, working as an anti-depressant, improving circulation, thin blood, cardiovascular health, antioxidant etc.)

Fascinating, but it doesn’t get me any closer to finding out who these guys are. More when I do.