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NeoBook and Shareware - An ongoing topic

Questions related to the distribution, marketing and selling of applications created with NeoBook. (Formally titled: "Making Money with NeoBook")

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NeoBook and Shareware - An ongoing topic

Postby Wrangler » Thu Jan 18, 2007 2:45 pm

OK. Here is a thread on neobook and shareware. Good place for those thinking about using nb for this purpose to post questions and thoughts.

I think most of us know what shareware is, but for those who don't, it's try before you buy. Just like Neobook is. I can remember buying DOS shareware on floppy disks (the REAL floppies, 5 1/2" and actually flopped, although too much flopping would render them useless). Back then, DOS also came on a floppy disk, and you had to keep swapping disks, as DOS needed things. Sheeesh. I had a whopping 8mhz turbo machine at that time. No hard drive. 640k system memory. Every time you invoked an action in software, the drive would clunk, clunk, clunk as it searched for what it needed. In those days, I had 2 cups of coffee in the morning; one during the boot process, and the second while loading software. I can also remember when I had a 10mb hard drive, and I thought I would never fill it up. Isn't advancing technology great?

I think some users of nb haven't even considered using it to develop shareware titles. And the thing is, it is very well suited for such a purpose, as you can see by clicking the link in my signature. All of these titles were developed with nb. In the early days of nb (4.0) it was limited, and was difficult to prepare for shareware, as you have to wrap the program in some sort of security, to control the trial part of it, and prevent piracy. Dave has been good at working with developers of wrappers to make neobook exe's compatible with their offerings. Armadillo is one. Weren't a lot of setup programs available back then either, but nb came with it's own. Although one of it's great new features was the ability to use third party plugins, there weren't many available, so power was at it's minimum. But over the years, many good plugins were developed, by NeoSoft and third parties, which gave it the power to make offering your creations in the shareware market worthwhile.

As I stated in another post, most shareware authors don't make a lot of money. The current shareware market is huge, and just coming up with an idea that hasn't already been beaten up is difficult. Really, that is the key to making money in shareware. Develop a program that nobody else has, thereby making it attractive, and driving sales. Or, take an idea that someone else has done poorly at, and improve on it. My first shareware program was written in batch file programming. It was 402k, considered HUGE at that time. It was a fix your credit program that you could print out letters to deal with the credit collectors, complete with menu system generated from ascii characters, and everything. Amazing what a bat file can be made to do!

What restrictions you place on your shareware project depends on the project. You may want to cripple some of the important functions to entice purchase, or offer a set trial period with no restrictions. For example, two of my shareware titles, Your Birthday News and Santa's Letter Creator, cripple the printing process, since that is what the program is all about, printing the finished product. I used Ronnie's rtProtect plugin for those. Other programs, such as Froogle Feed Generator, or the GoogleBase Feed Generators, limit the number of days it can be used unrestricted without purchasing it. These are wrapped in Armadillo. The theory of a fixed trial version is that they will like it and use it, and will still want it when the trial expires. I prefer this way of doing it, but it isn't always applicable.

But will my software be safe from piracy? No. The best you can do is make it as difficult as possible to reverse engineer, and make a keygen for. All of my popular titles have been cracked. When I come across these cracks, I download them and try them, and they work. Although an inconvenience to current registered users when they upgrade, changing the registration algorithm now and again at least makes the "crackers" have to work for it. To my knowledge, there isn't a software title developed that hasn't been cracked, including Windows, Microsoft Office, and any of the big commercial programs. It definately hurts the income part of things.

I think to make your title as professional looking as possible, a nice setup program should be used. I use Setup Factory. But, the setup feature that comes with neobook will work fine. I would like to see an uninstaller added to it, though.

OK. So you've created a shareware title that you think will be desirable. How do you sell it? Well, the first step of course, is a web site. You don't stand a chance in hell of selling anything without one. Then you promote the site, in the search engines, and anywhere else it fits. A good way to attract visitors is to develop a freeware title. Free to use and distribute, the copyright remains with you. The most searched for word on the Internet, is FREE. Of course, you put a little ad in the program enticing them to visit your site for more, where you then sell them your shareware. This technique works pretty well, although I have no stats to verify this. Many of my freeware titles have over 30,000 downloads. Speedo Autorun Maker has 31,000+. Not bad for a little program that took 15 minutes to create, and just creates an autorun.inf file to make CD's run when inserted into the drive. I include a link to my site in it. But, I don't know how many shareware sales it generates.

Another method of getting your software "out there", is a program called Promosoft. I tried all the ones out there, and none came close to it's usefulness. Using a database, it submits your title to hundreds of shareware sites. Shareware sites will list your shareware for free (well, most of them). They make their money off of advertising. I have no ties to Promosoft, I only recommend it because it WORKS. A little clunky to use, but it makes it very easy to submit to these sites. It will also generate a "pad" file, a file that contains all the information about your product, and allows shareware sites to grab it from your site. The Pad Repository is a good place to upload it to. Many shareware sites that Promosoft can't submit to go here to grab titles.

Promosoft Web Site: http://www.develab.net/

The part that works well with listing with shareware sites, is that when someone searches keywords that relate to your product, these sites pop up all over in the search engines, since these sites work hard to get themselves listed as high in the search results as possible. It's a win win situation. You will see your downloads increase in a matter of days.

Tips and Tricks

- Include an UNinstaller as well as an installer. Don't ask me why, but some think that if an uninstaller isn't included, your software contains a virus. I had a title on downloads.com that users were posting comments that because of this, my software had a virus, and that it wasn't worth downloading. I had to ask them to remove the comments, as it certainly didn't help sales any. Unless you write to the registry for some reason, neobook progs can be uninstalled just by deleting the directory. Nice.

- Try to keep your GUI (graphic user interface) from looking too "chunky". No need to use overly large text sizes, unless you are developing for the near blind. Some web designers are guilty of this. No need to be able to read your stuff from across the room. Most people sit right in front of their computers, and can see just fine. It also limits the amount of text you can fit in your pub. Choose lighter, neutral colors, not your favorite ones. Dark text, light background. You might like bright purple, but others may not. Take a look at what colors successful authors use, such as MS office. It worked for them for a reason, and it will work for you. Using graphics and icons is a big plus, and neobook makes using them for backgrounds etc. easy. Don't use too many animated gifs. Too distracting. Neobook will let you use any font, so pick one that matches the theme of your project.

Also, try to make it as easy as possible for users to use your features. Include buttons to as many features as the interface will allow. A toolbar, or "speedbar" is good for that. Put less common features in Neobook's Main menu feature.

- Don't worry too much about exe size. I mean, keep it within reason, especially if it dramatically slows down the operation, but with the increasingly widespread use of broadband, a 10 meg exe is not a deterent. And neobook runs exe's this size quite well. Rarely do my exe's exceed this, even in feature filled projects. The only thing I've seen that noticeably slows down processing is neodb, with larger databases. But, an answer to that is in the works, and another topic.

- Keep the pub screen size as small as possible. Unless warranted, no need to not use 640x480, or smaller. This allows the software to run on more monitor resolutions out there, as well as laptops. 800x600 is pretty much the standard resolution nowadays, and 1024x768 is an upcoming standard. And don't try to fit everything on one page. Neobook makes it easy to use multiple pages to spread things out. Big isn't always better.

- A good selling point is to make your program "portable". Neobook doesn't need to tap in to Windows much. You can keep everything in the pubdir it needs. This allows it to run on the new flash drives, which are becoming extremely popular. I have a 1gb flash drive loaded with the little utilities I write for myself, and I can use them on desktop, and my laptop while traveling, just by plugging it in to a usb port. Smaller exe size will pay here, however, since these drives are slower than hard drives.

- Include documentation with your project. Don't assume that the user can figure it out. Reviewers look for this. It may be plain to you, because you coded the thing, but others don't have a clue. I use screenshots in my docs, showing what I'm talking about. Be explicit. If you are describing a button that is labeled "Export", tell us what formats it exports to etc. and not "exports to a file". There are some good freeware programs out there that will let you create nice looking .chm files. I like WinCHM, but it is shareware. Stay away from the .hlp format. Microsoft is dropping support for these in the future. Just assume that everyone who uses your software ignorant, even if they aren't. You'll cover everyone that way. Not everyone is computer literate. But once they venture past the "email" part of computing, they will appreciate the extra time you took to explain things to them. Many times, I also include an online version of the docs. Personally, I dread the doc creation part. But it's a necessary evil and an important component of your project.

- Trap your errors. And make them verbose. "Error #44" means nothing to the user. "Your are not connected to the Internet. Please log on and try again" makes more sense. Windows is famous for this mistake. In the time they spent explaining in an unknown technical language, they could have actually told you what the heck happened, and maybe how to fix it.

- Make it a goal to make your project as good as MS Office, or any other top of the line commercial title. Don't re-invent the wheel. What is working for them, will work for you. You may not make it there, but the closer you get, the more sales.

- Whenever possible, beta test your software before release. If you can't get others to help with this, do it yourself. I use all my titles myself for a while, and you'd be surprised how many minor bugs pop up. Getting others to do it is best. Make sure they understand the procedure for reporting bugs. It requires them to pay attention, and report to you what they were doing to bring up the error, and what the error message says. And I like to offer my testers a free copy of what they are testing upon final release. Beta testing takes up their time, and it is a small way of compensating them for that. Careful with those who sign up to test, but don't contribute. Yeah, well, what if there are no bugs to be found? Not likely. They will be there, and if the tester shows enough ernest to report them to you, regardless of who else has, they deserve to be compensated. Also think about the word of mouth they will contribute. But before releasing the first beta copy, test it yourself on as many machines as possible to get rid of the "big" bugs. The kind that will lock up a machine, or just don't function at all. I generally test each feature as I add it. If I add printing capability, I run the pub and print with it.

- Don't include links or buttons to "upcoming" features. I've seen this done, and it will bite you in the butt. I haven't done it myself, but some of the shareware I've tested has, and it made me feel like I was being deprived, since now that I knew about it, I needed it, and was upset that it didn't function. If I don't know about it, I don't crave it.

- Don't announce any upcoming features, or when a new version will be released. This can also bite you in the butt. Only tell them enough to keep their interest. Tell them whether or not there are plans to release future versions, but not WHEN. If you've ever bugged a developer about when the next version will be released, you'll realize how annoying this is when you do it with your own title.

Well, I'm sure I can contribute more to this post, but I'm tapped out for now. I'll add to it as time goes by. If you have any questions, post them here. I gladly share what I know. I've got to get going. Neobook and my latest shareware release is calling me.
Wrangler
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Postby beno » Thu Jan 18, 2007 4:51 pm

Hi Wrangler,

Very interesting and useful contribution, thanks a lot!

I have been using NB since the DOS days, I use it daily and mainly to create custom apps for my customers.

Lately I´ve been interested in creatinf shareware titles, and here is why I find very useful all you contributions.

Some thoughts,

If someone cracks your program, then we can think your program is interesting and people wants to use it, so this could be good news :wink:

We have to find a balance between creating the application, writting the documentation (phew!, this part is the toughest for me) and protecting our products. I´m using Ronnie´s rtProtect plugin, but since my shareware apps are still in its initial stage I can not write here my experience in this arena.

I ceratinly will re-read your post so I can incorporate some of the ideas you are sharing with us, some of these are new for me.

Thanks again for you contribution.

Saludos,

beno
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Postby Wrangler » Thu Jan 18, 2007 5:24 pm

I have mixed feelings about finding cracks for my software out there. Like you said, it is a compliment in a way. And, I'm not really sure I'm losing that much money. People who use cracked software probably wouldn't have bought it anyway. Ronnie has never said his plug was the answer to piracy. As compared to Armadillo, it's weak at best. But, it keeps the honest people honest.

Neobook doesn't interface with security software, as far as I know. If it does, I'm not aware of how to do it. If someone knows how, this thread would be a good place to post a how-to. Would be nice if you could disable certain features with the wrapper, until it is unlocked.

Thanks for the kind words. I hope my rambling will benefit some. I don't know that my shareware will ever make me a living, but it's good beer money. Some get lucky. The developers of PaintShop Pro started out as shareware, went commercial, and then sold out to Corel. Like I said, it helps to find the niche.

Good luck in your shareware endeavors. If you need help, give us a holler.
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Postby Frank » Fri Jan 19, 2007 2:12 am

Hello Wrangler,

Thank you for your extensive contribution.

One thing I noticed in this thread is that you use fairly expensive tools for encrypting your shareware or installing it. Not everyone has the luxury to purchase these tools. So, I really would like to see the tools other members of this forum use (and I don't mean tools you have sighted but tools you've really used and are happy with)

My small contribution to Wranglers thoughts:

- If you say your application will run on multiple Windows platforms then do test it before selling; especially when using plug-ins. If an application runs on e.g. XP then don't assume it will run on Windows 98 too. Now that Vista is (almost) on the market it has never been that hard to create working software. There are even exe-packers (the ones that use simple DLL/OCX registration) out there that won't work because of the renewed security in Vista.

- Make your application as intuitive as possible. Create a help file/manual, but remember that most people (non-developers) don't even look in the help file. Where else do you think the term 'RTFM' comes from?!

Regards,
Frank

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Postby beno » Fri Jan 19, 2007 8:59 am

Hi,

Ideas on software protection.

If you are making commercial apps, then I do not see a problem investing in expensive technologies to make sure you have control on your products. These investments will be paid at a certain moment. This is a personal view.

Now, this is my personal approach to software piracy:

- I would like that people can download my software and test all its features, so my programs are not crippled and displays a nagging: "this copy is DEMO and unregistered" window each 5 or 10 minutes.

- A similiar phrase appears in the program output: at a random place the program inserts: "Made using a uregistered copy of MySoftware..."

- Hopefully the user will like my program and will contact me to buy a license

- I create a encrypted tiny file based on the user information (name, address, email, etc etc) ans send it to my customer. This file is copied in the program folder, the program reads this file and displays the user name as in "This license beongs to: Joe"

- It has not arrived the time yet, maybe someone will crack my encryption scheme and put his/her own name on this file without paying for the license... don't know because this has not happened yet. Mmmmh, if someone does this, well... this does not makes me happy, but Ok. Read the next paragraphs.

- But, what about if I offer my software licences at a nice and affordable price so people may prefer to buy his/her own licences and forget about crushing their neurons cracking crypted files?... My guess is that 99% of us do not have time to crack software licences.

- Now, let's say Joe Smith buys a license and gives a copy to his friend Pancho. Pancho will be using my program but will see Joe's name daily in his screen. I hope some day he will get bored of looking Joe's name and will contact me to buy his own license.

- Finally, my guess is that someday Pancho finds a way to make business using my software then surely he will have to contact me and pay for a license displaying his name beacuse it is going to be improbable to sell something with Joe's name. This point is important for me: I would hope my software is usefull and will allow people to create materials they will do business with. Like I use NB, I create programs I sell to my customers, NB's price has been paid many times to my wallet.

Maybe these ideas may seem simplistic...

Saludos,

beno
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Postby Wrangler » Fri Jan 19, 2007 11:00 am

Frank: A couple of good tips you came up with. Maybe if we get more of these, we can compile an ebook on the ins and outs of shareware (using neobook, of course!) :)

One thing I noticed in this thread is that you use fairly expensive tools for encrypting your shareware or installing it


Creating and distributing shareware titles is a business in itself. There will be investments to make it work. Once your product is out there, you only hope that it will return this investment. rtProtect is by no means expensive for what it does. Plus, it integrates into neobook nicely. I chose Armadillo because of it's encryption strength, and it is one of the few that is compatible with Neobook's exe file. I tried many others, and they weren't compatible. NeoSoft's web site lists those that are known to be compatible.

You could code your own protection right into your pub. But it will be weak, and will easily allow others to use it without paying. If you have no problem with this, then you don't need to invest into that part of it. If it does bother you, then you will need to spend the money it takes to secure it as much as possible. Ronnie's plug is a nice in-between. If you can't afford it's low price, then shareware development may not be for you.

There are even exe-packers (the ones that use simple DLL/OCX registration) out there that won't work because of the renewed security in Vista.


I haven't installed Vista yet. From what I have been reading, there could be some issues that we don't know about. It would be helpful if you could list those that you know will not work, so we can avoid them. But it is also possible that they wouldn't work with nb exe's anyway. I guess as time progresses, and we use nb exe's with Vista, and these third party programs, these will come to light. This topic would be a good place to post them.

I would like that people can download my software and test all its features, so my programs are not crippled and displays a nagging: "this copy is DEMO and unregistered" window each 5 or 10 minutes.


I agree with you. I don't like excessive nagging, and my titles only show a nag when shutting down, stating that it is shareware, the cost to register it, and a link to the order page on my site. It would be foolish not to put SOMETHING in there. But there is a reason some developers do this. People are funny creatures, especially when buying on the Internet. If you have a PHD in Business Management and Marketing, a lot of what you learned wouldn't apply to doing business on the Web. Your site may be easier to access than a brick and morter store, but the next site is just as easy to get to. If you don't present your product correctly, one click takes them to the next guy. A very small percentage of those who try shareware actually buy. 1%, if you are lucky. So, for every 100 downloads, one MIGHT buy it. The excessive nags are an attempt to get them to take the first step towards registration. Television advertising is a good example of this. Commercials shown frequently in one TV show, or shown back to back has been proven to work. The announcer may repeat the toll free number many times in each commercial. Or, "if you buy now, we will DOUBLE the order". They are all proven techniques that sell products. Even though you may find it irritating, it increases sales. And if they didn't work, businesses wouldn't spend the money on the ads. I choose not to use this approach, but I probably lose sales because of it. I just don't like "hard selling", and that's what it takes to sell lots of them.

I create a encrypted tiny file based on the user information (name, address, email, etc etc) ans send it to my customer. This file is copied in the program folder, the program reads this file and displays the user name as in "This license beongs to: Joe"


rtProtect also does this, without the extra file. It stores this information in the key file. Before registration, they show as "unregistered". As mentioned in my first post, I would like this capability using a program like Armadillo.

But, what about if I offer my software licences at a nice and affordable price so people may prefer to buy his/her own licences and forget about crushing their neurons cracking crypted files?... My guess is that 99% of us do not have time to crack software licences. Now, let's say Joe Smith buys a license and gives a copy to his friend Pancho. Pancho will be using my program but will see Joe's name daily in his screen. I hope some day he will get bored of looking Joe's name and will contact me to buy his own license.


Pricing your product just right is important. It should reflect what the market will bear, and return your investment in a reasonable period of time. Many people shy away from software that is priced too low, because it reflects the quality of the product. They are used to paying 30, 40, 50 dollars for a product like yours. They see yours for 4.95, it falls into the "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is". And, of course, pricing it too high will run them off.

99% of people are not CAPABLE of cracking software themselves. They get these cracks on what are known as "crack" sites. I won't list any of them here, but if you can Google, you can find them. The cracking community is large, and spread world wide. Russia is at the top of the list, where reverse engineering isn't a crime. The Chinese also seem to prefer not to pay for their software. Microsoft claims they lose billions to piracy of their software there. And with all the money and tools they have, even they can't seem to stop it.

I am an ex-cop, and have been a private investigator for 25 years. I have worked cases for clients who are concerned about piracy. This is how I became aware of the cracking community. I cruise cracking forums regularly, to try to get an idea of the mentality of those who use cracks, as well as the crackers themselves. And trust me, Pancho could care less if Joe's name appears, as long as he can use it for free. Different though, if for example, you have a title that prints out something. Putting DEMO across the page will stop Pancho from using this feature to a degree, but this can also be removed by reverse engineering, and is generally included along with the keygen in the "crack".
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Postby beno » Fri Jan 19, 2007 2:58 pm

Hi,

I forgot to mention but I use Ronnie's rtProtect plugin.

Ronnie is great!, hope some day he visit us more regularly.

And trust me, Pancho could care less if Joe's name appears, as long as he can use it for free.


Well, here is a interesting point.

First, I think we agree that Pancho should buy his license if he palns to use this software.

Second, what about if he uses it, despite Joe's name appears, but he does not makes a income with it. Me, as the author, surely would prefer his buys a copy from me, but at the same time think Pancho is not a bad guy since he is not making profits with my program.

Mmmh, this is a sensitive topic and we have to move carefully...

Different though, if for example, you have a title that prints out something.


Going back to the previous paragraph, if Pancho is going to sell the output that my program produces, then there are only 2 options: he is a pro cracker and can make my program display whatever he wants, and second, he will contact me and happily will pay for my work.

So, maybe I'm dreaming, I hope my software will be real usefull (like NeoBook) and people will pay for it.

Saludos from PanchoLand! ha ha!

beno
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Postby dpayer » Sat Jan 20, 2007 8:21 am

Let me share the methods that caused me to make a purchase of shareware I was using.

Winzip - they allow you to use it but they show how many times you have used it without paying, slowing the process a bit. A gentle reminder. It worked for me.

PDF995 - PDF printer driver, allows you to make PDF from any thing you can print to a printer. There are no restrictions on using it but every time you would print with the shareware version, it would open a web page and put in an ad for their product to buy. It would sometimes use an OPEN WINDOW I HAD LOGGED IN SOMEWHERE to display this information!!!!! Needless to say, it got my attention and I registered it. It was $9.95 and very reasonable. I felt that the annoyance was justified for what it did and I feel my 9.95 (and further purchases from them as well) have been well worth it.

I would like to hear what others saw were good techniques to get the attention of the buyer and what worked for them.

David P.
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Postby Gaev » Sat Jan 20, 2007 9:36 am

Pretty soon this post might become huge ... and lose some of its benefits due to multiple threads being interspersed.

Might I suggest that ...

a) that there be separate posts for the different aspects of publishing software e.g.

- development (design, coding, testing etc.)
- marketing/promotion
- order process (payments, delivery, returns/refunds)
- protection/piracy
- upgrades/fixes

... with forward/backwards links with this post ... so all this information is not lost


b) might even justify a separate forum and/or category for this kind of discussion/exchange that has nothing to do with aspects of NeoBook itself
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Postby Wrangler » Sat Jan 20, 2007 9:56 am

I think you are right, Gaev. I actually didn't know there was this much interest in using Neobook for this purpose. A seperate forum, with sub forums you have listed would work well:

- development (design, coding, testing etc.)
- marketing/promotion
- order process (payments, delivery, returns/refunds)
- protection/piracy
- upgrades/fixes

This would require the forum administrator approval, of course.

I have sent Dave an email on the subject. We'll see what happens.
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