I confess. I also had a incendiary post (never published) about Red Gate’s decision to stop offering Reflector as a free application and move towards a paying-only scheme.
It was bitter, it was childish, it had bad words such as “greed” and “liar”, it was a true emotional statement. I let it rot in my Drafts folder.
In an unexpected turn of events, I read that Red Gate has “undone” some of their decisions, so this is a chance to write about my own readings of the situation and extract my own opinions.
On one hand is wonderful news, as users get what they wanted the most: keep using a useful piece of software that was offered for free as long as they please to use it. No more time-bombing (let’s hope) and no more updates or enhancements. If you asking my opinion (and I am positive I can hear your head nodding) this is what it should have been done from the very beginning. It would have saved some of the turmoil of negative opinions, the bad karma and the name calling. Some, but not all, as the free version the
promised said they were going to offer will soon become obsolete and so, the paying option will be the only effective choice, but reactions from the community would have been (I have no doubt) less violent.
On the other hand I think the chain of decisions taken by the company could not have been the worse. I know it is very easy to judge things when they have just happened. I am no business-man myself, neither an executive or a CEO. I do not have an MBA at the time of writing. But I am someone as important (or more) as those aforementioned: I am a user of your products.
Let me elaborate my (simplistic) chain of reasoning: I have a de-facto monopoly on decompiling tools with a huge (for such a tool) use base and as such, no competitors. I enrage my user-base by removing from their hands a perfectly working product (who would have thought, uh?). Users already has the chance to pay a price by buying a Pro version, but they did not. I hope that they are not so pissed as to not hand me over their money by the forcing them to do so.
Am I the only one that finds this chain of reasoning ridiculous? I am sure they did not envisioned like that, but still. Any executive that could not see this scenario coming should be automatically fired. And his superior fired by not firing him.
Why I think it is flawed? Customers are not as stupid as we think we are and we are dealing with (supposedly) smarter than average users. Those users already saw no incentive on the paying version over the good-enough free version and yet they are pushed towards a situation they did not want in the first place. And they are pushed by the force and, not surprisingly they reacted.
What is more, Red Gate opened the gate (no pun intended) for competition! That is an unheard situation: the one that has a monopoly opens the market for competitors without the intervention of external forces! And the motivations could not be more different than “doing the best for the users”. It was, simply, getting more money. No sugar coating. No sweet-talking. They had a situation in which a fraction of all the users would pay for a better tool and now they had to share that pie with competitors.
And my gosh competition took advantage of the situation. Since the announcement I am sure the Open Source alternative must have received more contributions that it would have dreamed of, not to speak of the moves of two big guys in the arena of .NET tool development. They must have seen Heavens open in front of their very eyes. Or at least a chance to get a piece of the user-base that would pay for a good tool when, before, they had no chance of getting any.
What a better way of closing than with the title itself: pissing off your users, bringing bad publicity, opening the field for competition and then strengthening the arguments of your critics by rolling back your decisions? Pure Genius.