Under The Microscope

Macworld, “Shareware”, And The Future

In the 80s and early 90s, shareware was software meant to be passed around, and paid for on the honor system…things have changed, thanks mostly to the internet, and the more specifically, the web. There are many “shareware” companies making tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and/or employing multiple programmers. Rogue Amoeba, as well as companies such as Unsanity, Ranchero, even the Omni Group – these are true software companies, true businesses incorporated with their various governments and subject to real world business regulations, who may be stamped with the label of “Shareware” and all the potential negative associations that come with it.Recently, I was involved in a discussion with a contact over at Macworld magazine regarding their software coverage, particularly as it relates to commercial software vs. (options include shareware, payware, and my favorite, independent software). I pointed out that, as I’ve seen it, Macworld concentrates its reviews on the commercial software market – but I think the world has changed a great deal with relation to “shareware”. I’m not the only one either.

In the 80s and early 90s, shareware was software meant to be passed around, and paid for on the honor system. In its truest form, it was totally free with no restrictions, depending upon the honesty of users to pay for it. And, well, it wasn’t really viable. And people didn’t get very good support some times (programmers who are effectively having their work stolen by a large percentage of users often aren’t very interested in helping others use their software), and it wasn’t very business-like, overall. I can certainly understand not reviewing this sort of software – it was too hit-or-miss, with too many potential problems and snags. Why would Macworld want to attach their names, even if only in the form of a positive review, to such a quagmire?But things have changed, thanks mostly to the internet, and more specifically, the web. The line between commercial software companies like Adobe and Microsoft, and “shareware” companies has blurred greatly. There are many small software companies making tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and/or employing multiple programmers. Rogue Amoeba, as well as companies such as Unsanity, Ranchero, even the Omni Group – these are true software companies, true businesses incorporated with their various governments and subject to real world business regulations. And yet, each and every one of us may be stamped with the label of “Shareware” and all the potential negative associations that come with it. It’s time to break the cycle.

We all (if I may speak for these companies, as well as my own) make our products with the same level of caring and commitment as a company like, well I was going to say Microsoft, but I think we do better than that. We support our products, probably better than the more commercial companies, because every single customer matters to us.

So, what separates us from the huge boys who are getting their products reviewed, besides what I feel are our increased attitudes of caring about our customers? Smaller advertising budgets, that’s for sure. Most of us can’t really afford a full page ad in MacWorld, but that certainly shouldn’t matter to the editorial board (And I don’t contend that it does). A lack of a box for the software, and not finding us in the Apple Store? For most of us (Omni is an exception) that’s definitely true, and I can easily see that as a drawback for Macworld. Readers want reviews of software they hear about and see.

But even more so, I think readers want to learn about software that can help them. If our software, or someone else’s (I don’t want this to come off as a rant devoted to “Why doesn’t Macworld have a review of Audio Hijack Pro”, because that’s certainly not the issue), is universal enough, it ought to qualify for a review, regardless of how it’s distributed.

Tim Woodruff, my contact at Macworld, was very receptive to my comments (He is, after all, in charge of compiling the CD that accompanies the newsstand copies of Macworld, which are largely populated by share- and freeware). He indicated that he feels Macworld has made positive steps towards broadening their coverage recently, especially with their Reviews In Brief section. And he’s absolutely right, this is an excellent step forward. But the process for gaining one of these reviews is still skewed. Companies who make boxed software send out copies to magazines and websites. This box provides something tangible for a reviewer to notice, as opposed to a simple email that says “Hey, check out our new app!”.

And as of right now, there’s no real way of even getting that far with Macworld (or MacAddict, or MacTech, or any of the US-based print magazines. For some reason, we’ve had far more success in foreign press, including Macworld UK). The best independent software companies who don’t do boxed software can hope for is someone like Tim who’s out on patrol, looking for the next big thing. Hopefully this will change, because a lot of the best damned software on the Mac is coming out of someone’s garage – just like the original Apple-1.

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