Tag Archives: Shareware

We’re Not in the Business of Understanding our User

Za-tray2

A few years ago I wrote about sometimes your product is useful to people in ways you didn’t know—and that you’d be smart to recognise that and capitalize on itn (What Your Product Does You Might Not Know About, 2007).

One of the examples I cited was ZoneAlarm, a very popular firewall that was bought by Check Point. The point I made with their product was how useful the Windows system tray icon was in that it doubled as a network activity monitor. The logo, in short, would switch to a twin gauge when there was traffic. Really useful: it wasn’t directly related to the actual function of the firewall, but for most people that’s academic. If the firewall’s up and running and traffic is showing through it, everything must be good.

The dual-purpose icon was a confidence-boosting measure, a symbol that the purpose of the product—to keep the network safe—was actually being fulfilled.

Not any more. A message on the ZoneAlarm User Community forum indicates that as of March this year the icon will not double as a network monitor. In response to questions from users a moderator wrote:

Its not going to be fixed in fact its going to be removed from up comming [sic] ZA version 10
So this will be a non issue going forward.
ZoneAlarm is not in the buiness [sic] of showing internet activity.
Forum Moderator

So there you have it. A spellchecker-challenged moderator tells it as it is. Zone Alarm is now just another firewall, with nothing to differentiate it and nothing to offer the user who’s not sure whether everything is good in Internet-land. Somebody who didn’t understand the product and the user saved a few bucks by cutting the one feature that made a difference to the user.

Check Point hasn’t covered itself in glory, it has to be said. I reckon one can directly connect the fall in interest in their product with the purchase by Check Point of Zone Labs in December 2003 (for $200 million). Here’s what a graph of search volume looks like for zonealarm since the time of the purchase. Impressive, eh?

image

Of course, this also has something to do with the introduction of Windows’ own firewall, which came out with XP SP2 in, er, 2004. So good timing for Zone Labs but not so great for Check Point.

Which is why they should have figured out that the one thing that separated Zone Alarm from other firewalls was the dual purpose icon. So yes, you are in the business of showing Internet activity. Or were.

(PS Another gripe: I tried the Pro version on trial and found that as soon as the trial was over, the firewall closed down. It didn’t revert to the free version; it just left my computer unprotected. “Your computer is unprotected,” it said. Thanks a bunch!)

Playing the Software Pirates at Their Own Game

In the last post I prattled on about how Microsoft et al didn’t get it when it comes to dealing with piracy. So what should they do?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d like to see a more creative approach. After all, these pirates have an extraordinary delivery mechanism that is much more efficient than anything else I’ve seen. Why not try an experiment whereby a user who buys counterfeit software, either knowingly or unknowingly, has six months’ grace period in which to ‘activate’ a legitimate version? This could be done online by a key download and a credit card. No big software downloads — prohibitive in a country where Internet speeds are glacial — and no shipping (time-consuming, and often not possible from most suppliers). Instead, a downloaded widget would scour the program the user wants to ‘activate’, check its version and integrity (I’m not talking values here, I’m talking software) and install whatever patches are necessary (hopefully done without need for a full upload.) After that, the software is legit.

Software vendors would argue that this encourages piracy. I would argue: if the user can’t buy a legitimate version of your software in the country they live in, either online or offline, should they just not use your software? Or

Secondly, I would argue that this approach is not far removed from the shareware try-before-you-buy approach whereby users get to play with software for free for 30 days or so before buying. Of course, if they want to, the user could just not pay and continue using the software. But I suspect that they weren’t the kind of customer who was going to pay anyway, so you can hardly count them as lost business.

Lastly, it may be possible to use this approach to disrupt the economics of the pirate software network by embracing the shareware model. Instead of restricting distribution of your product, you flood the market with shareware versions of your software, allowing users a grace period in which to try out the software. If users can find trial copie of OneNote or PhotoShop or whatever free in every computer shop they visit, why would they bother buying a dodgy pirate copy that may or may not work? Sure, the free version needs paying for at some point, but that’s the point. The piracy market exists in part because people don’t have access to legitimate software — certainly not the range of legitimate software — in these places.

OK, that’s not always true. There will always be pirates, and there will always be people who buy from pirates, even if the legitimate software is available next door. But I suspect a lot of people who buy pirate software buy it to experiment, to try out software. Indeed, someone living in a place like Indonesia is likely to be familiar with many more software programs than someone living in a non-pirate-infested country. It’s not that these people want this software desperately, nor that they would buy it all full price if they had to. They buy it because the price is so low, they may as well buy it and try it. Do they keep it installed? In most cases, probably not. But the calculation for Microsoft et al should be: How many of these people would buy this software if, after trying it, they liked it?

Finding the answer to that question will give you an idea of the real losses Microsoft and co are incurring in lost business. It should also make them realise that not doing a decent job of making their software readily available in a place like Indonesia — at a price that reflects the purchasing power of the local consumer — is creating this highly efficient, but highly parasitical economy in pirated software. If they can reach their customers through that economy, or bypass it with widely available shareware versions of their programs — then they may stand a chance.

Microsoft’s Spyware Gate

Microsoft have launched a new version of their Antispyware application, now rebuilt and renamed Windows Defender. Initial reports are favorable, including Paul Thurrott, who is good on these kind of things:

Windows Defender Beta 2 combines the best-of-breed spyware detection and removal functionality from the old Giant Antispyware product and turns it into a stellar application that all Windows users should immediately download and install. Lightweight, effective, and unobtrusive, Windows Defender is anti-spyware done right, and I still consider this to be the best anti-spyware solution on the market. Highly recommended.

Expect this program to become part of the next Windows operating system, meaning that spyware is going to be kept out of most computers by default. This is a good thing. What is less good is that it lets Microsoft decide what is and what isn’t spyware, giving them one more gate to control. Also, spare a thought for all the companies that have been selling antispyware software for the past few years; I can’t see many of them surviving past Windows Vista.

Zone Labs to Offer Sygate, Kerio Users a Deal

From a press release emailed to me by Zone Labs, makers of Zone Alarm:

The personal firewall market is currently undergoing a major shift, with Symantec set to retire the Sygate line of personal firewalls tomorrow (including the free version and Sygate Pro), and Kerio discontinuing its personal firewall at the end of December to pursue an enterprise strategy. […] In order to help consumers affected by recent events, Zone Labs will be announcing a new promotion to Sygate and Kerio users later this week to ensure that consumers have essential firewall protection available at an affordable price.

Not clear what kind of offer yet, but I’ll let you know.

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.

ZoneAlarm’s Impressive About-turn, Or How To Do Blog PR Right

A day ago I vented my disappointment at a sneaky marketing gambit inside ZoneAlarm’s otherwise excellent free firewall software, which scared the user into running an external spyware scanner in the hope of getting them to upgrade. This morning I received word from their PR department that this promotion “has been turned off. The wording was not optimal, and we sincerely regret any inconvenience or frustrations it caused our users. Also, your story has prompted us to create a new approval process for any outbound promotions including multiple departments, to ensure that we maintain the highest integrity in our marketing efforts.”

I’m very impressed. I’m not suggesting my post prompted this — it sounds like it was in the works anyway — but this kind of close and timely monitoring of blogs is just the kind of iniatitive PR departments should be involved in, and just what I was going on about in a recent diatribe about Nokia, who seem little interested in customers who have less than perfect experience in the company’s ‘Care Centres’.

Good work, ZoneAlarm.

A Free Zone Alarm?

For firewalls, I always recommend Zone Alarm from ZoneLabs. To my mind it’s still the best and most intuitive firewall around. But most people only need the free version. And that’s where the problem is. Why do ZoneLabs make it so hard for ordinary users to download it?

Readers and friends who have tried to download the free version often seem to run into problems, and download the ‘free trial’ version or some other less-than-free version of the software. As I recommend Zone Alarm, and thought that ZoneLabs had agreed to make this easer after earlier complaints, I thought I should check it out.

It’s true that it’s not easy. The Free ZoneAlarm and trials link is there in the top half of the screen, but it’s below another ‘freebie’, a Spyware Detector (more of that anon). The list of ZoneAlarm Security Products that are now available does not include a link to the free version, and the big link to the ZoneAlarm Security Suite page which dominates the top half of the screen contains no links to the free version. Neither does the download page. So unless you happen to see the link on the homepage, you’ve pretty much lost the chance to get the free download.

And even then, should you make it to the ‘Free Downloads’ page, you’ll have to scroll down to the end of the list, past five other mentions of the word ‘free’ to find the free version. Made it that far? You still have to skip past another tripwire before you make it home without removing your wallet. The first link on that page is to a link: FREE! Scan My PC for Spyware Before Downloading ZoneAlarm® (Recommended) that sounds, to a casual user, almost part of the download process. (What they don’t tell you is that the scan is for free, but you’ll have to shell out $30 to remove the ‘spyware, keyloggers, cookies, adware, browser help objects and other pests’ that the scan will find. My scan found 48 items of ‘spyware’ — all but two of them cookies, which is pushing the definition a little. (The other two were MS Media Player ID files, which are worth removing, according to CA and Kephyr.)

This is a shame because, while I can understand ZoneLabs need to make a buck, the free version is an excellent shop window for ZoneLabs. And users shouldn’t be misled by ‘recommended’ links to other software that looks free, but isn’t really. Bottom line: If you’re not educating the user but trying to get their money through stealth or obfuscation, then you’re not part of the solution.

A New Bat

A new version of The Bat! is now on the rafters.

The developers, RitLabs, promise a new look user interface, the chance to replace the default interface glyphs with those of your own preference, better message filtering, special deal for students and, for the next 3 months registered users of The Bat! version 1 and 2 will be able to purchase version 3 for half price.

Software: An Alternative Firewall to ZoneAlarm?

 Aaron Heskel from Belgium suggests Agnitum’s OutPost as an alternative to ZoneLabs’ ZoneAlarm firewall. I’ll definitely check it out.
 
 
As with ZoneAlarm, there’s a free version which may be enough for most folks. I’ll let you know how I get on.

News: Spam The Website

 You know that spam has hit the big time when it gets its own website. Well, a corner of one: PCWorld.com yesterday released Spam Watch, a new section of its web site dedicated to the latest news, tips and tools in the war against online junk mail. PC World Spam Watch also features “Spam Slayer,” an exclusive weekly column, the Top 5 Anti-Spam Downloads with the hottest freeware and shareware to help stop spam, and the latest information on legislation opposing unwanted e-mail.