Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

Summary: Today, .NET Reflector goes from being a free program to a paid program. Not only that, but all current versions will stop working unless you buy a license.


If you're a .NET developer, chances are you've heard of .NET Reflector, a decompilation, debugging, and reverse engineering tool for managed code. Originally written by Lutz Roeder, .NET Reflector was acquired by Red Gate in August 2008. At the time, James Moore, Red Gate's general manager of .NET Developer Tools said:

"Our commitment is to maintain an amazing free tool that will continue to benefit the community while seeking input from users on ways to make .NET Reflector even more valuable."

In a sure-to-be controversial decision, the company is preparing to renege on that commitment. This morning, Red Gate Software announced that it will charge $35 for the basic edition of .NET Reflector 7, scheduled for release in early March. According to Neil Davidson, co-CEO of Red Gate,

"We provided .NET Reflector without charge for two-and-a-half years, but unfortunately could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company. Charging this nominal amount – about the price of a tank of gas in the U.S. – will enable us to dedicate a team of developers to make sure that Reflector remains a valuable, up-to-date tool over the long term."

See also: Video with Greg Tillman and Simon Galbraith on the future of .NET Reflector.

I sat down with Greg Tillman from Red Gate's marketing team to get their side of the story...

Next: Why the free model didn't work >

[Ed Burnette] Why didn't the free model work for Red Gate?

[Greg Tillman] We thought that there were two models that would continue to support a free version of Reflector.

The first was some sort of halo effect on the rest of our products. We have some market leading developer tools like ANTS Performance Profiler and SQL Compare. We were originally working on the assumption that the huge volumes of traffic Reflector would bring to our website would mean users would stop and look around our other tools. It turns out that this wasn't the case.

The second model was a typical freemium model which we have been trying to operate for the last 12 months. I.e. a small amount of users buy the premium version of Reflector and support the further development of both the premium and free versions. To be honest, this is not a model we typically agree with. Without heavy handed tactics like removing features from the free product there was no way we felt we could get the conversion rates to where they would need to be to make .NET Reflector a priority for us.

We see these as our problems and although we would like to apologize for being wrong about our initial assumptions, we certainly are not angling for pity. Put simply - we were wrong.

[Ed] What about all the people using the free version now. Won't they just continue to use that?

[Greg] This is a common misunderstanding about .NET Reflector and it is something we have taken a lot of flack for in the two and a half years we have owned the tool. .NET Reflector actually has always had a 6 month expiration date built in to each version. Every 6 months or so you need to update to the next version of the software. A lot of people think Red Gate built that expiration model into Reflector but actually it is the way Lutz had run things for the previous 8 years.

Next: Ensuring a revenue stream >

[Ed] Why build in an expiration date?

[Greg] I wouldn't like to speak for Lutz but the common consensus is that he put that in to make sure he only had to support one version of the tool at any point in time. Clearly for him and for us this always left the door open to the possibility of commercializing Reflector in some way.

The current version of Reflector is version 6.5 which will expire on April 15th 2011. We didn't think this was enough notice for the community so we decided that we would release version 6.6 today along with the announcement to give users access to a free version until May 30th. We are hoping people will use this time to get used to the idea of charging or find an alternative way of solving the problems they used to use Reflector for.

[Ed] Will $35 be enough to fund development or will you have to raise the price later?

[Greg] We want Reflector to remain a mass market tool and so there is an economic reality there that demands a price in this kind of range. We see a low price for the standard version of Reflector as a key component of its future but we would be silly to commit to no change in the price as time goes on.

I think you now realize that there has always been a time bomb in Reflector and what this really means. With forced updates you had update or you couldn't continue to use Reflector. In the new model, however, $35 will pay for a perpetual license of .NET Reflector 7.0 that is yours to keep forever. We are also not proposing that for $35 you get free upgrades to new versions; just that your version is yours to keep.

[Ed] Don't you need some kind of continuing revenue to pay for development?

[Greg] I agree that we need to do more than take just one payment of $35 from each Reflector user to sustain the development of this tool. For starters there will still be the premium version of Reflector with all the debugging capabilities at $95 and we also plan to add a middle edition to encourage upgrades at any time. With three editions to work on and a full time development team on Reflector we believe we can make a sustainable business by releasing new versions of Reflector with exciting new features that tempt enough of the base to keep upgrading (at a fee) to future versions.

Lastly I should mention that only 1/3rd of the world's .NET developers have ever used .NET Reflector. For a tool that has around 20 core user cases we are very excited about investing in Reflector enough to extend its reach to the remaining 2/3rds of the world's .NET developers.

Topics: Software, Enterprise Software, Software Development

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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  • morons!

    these greedy bean counters haven't heard of the FOSS model.
    It's time for a new ledership at red gate not some incompetent M$ puppets!
    Linux Geek
    • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

      @Linux Geek - RedGate is a commercial software company, not a charity. They employ a team of people to improve their products. How are they to pay these people if they don't charge money for their products?

      If the whole world created projects using the FOSS model, everyone would be unemployed.
      • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

        @bitcrazed <br>RedGate did not create this tool, it was created by Lutz Roeder. When RedGate acquired the tool, they said

        "Under an agreement announced on Wednesday 20th August , Red Gate will be responsible for the future development of .NET Reflector, the popular tool authored by Lutz Roeder. Red Gate will continue to offer the tool for free to the community."<br><br>AND<br><br>"We accept the fact that there will be scepticism, but we can point to a good track record of support for the community."<br><br>See the context on RedGate's site:<br><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a><br><br>In the retail space, this is known as bait-and-switch. RedGate should be ashamed of themselves and I hope everyone who has any say in purchasing will support their competitors instead.
    • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

      @Linux Geek

      You must be one of those socialists ;-)

      You can argue philosophy all you want. but this isn't theoretical. They tried and it didn't work. I know, it obviously needs your deep tech knowledge and marketing smarts - why not give them a call.
    • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

      @Linux Geek Was it just me or did anyone else read this comment in Professor Hubert J. Farnsworths voice? :o)
    • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

      @Linux Geek

      Maybe if you give them some money then the rest of us can use it for free.
  • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

    This is so much bullshize! The reason nobody bought the other tools was they're too expensive for any individual to buy. I did look at their other tools and while I was impressed, I could not afford to buy them. Give me a break! With this, they've already shown they break their promises. Do you think I, or anyone else, will ever trust them again? Absolutely NOT!<br><br>Furthermore, it's not their marketing of Reflector that has failed, it's the marketing of their other products that has failed!<br><br>I guarantee you this will backfire on Red Gate!
    ahmed zahmed
    • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

      ahmed zahmed --<br><br>So what you're saying is that since Red Gate is now charging for Reflector, you not only won't buy <i>it</i>, but you'll also refuse to buy all of their other products that you never bought before ... and this will somehow "punish" them?<br><br>Uh, yeah.
  • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

    @bitcrazed: You seem to be missing the point that Red Gate made a very specific commitment to the developer community when they acquired Reflector. Is a corporate entity somehow entitled to a more lax interpretation of the word "commitment" simply because they suddenly decide that a valuable service to the developer community is worth less than than a juicy new revenue stream?
    Of course Red Gate has to make money. But they market several very successful products. I don't think you need to be concerned about their ability to pay their employees.
    They are unhappy because the free Reflector didn't turn out to be the loss leader they hoped, so they are instead opting to throw this prior commitment out the window and cash in on a captive user base.
    Greg the Marketing Guy's statements notwithstanding, this decision has nothing to do with the cost of maintenance. It's all about an inability to resist the lure of a guaranteed revenue stream.

    Had Red Gate ever really looked at this as a commitment to continue to provide this valued and appreciated service to the developer community, they would either continue to fund it as a cost center or release the free version code base to open source and let the community maintain it. But the "commitment" -- like the justifications presented as they now abandon it -- was just marketing spin.
  • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

    You work/play in .net space and are now shocked to find demands to pay to continue to play?
    • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

      @wkulecz I am shocked to find such blatant underhandedness and broken promises!
      ahmed zahmed
  • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

    I sell a commercial product too ... but I wouldn't break a promise like this.

    The deal was simple: RedGate acquires product IT DID NOT WRITE in return for a promise of a free version forever. Period.

    I hope Lutz has the right to take it back if RedGate violates that covenant.

    The bullshit about the expiration data is UNBELIEVABLE. Let's say they want to break the deal and start charging. The LEAST they could do is set the expiration date on the last free version to "forever". Hiding behind Lutz's practice - which was reasonable for a solo operation - is affront to our intelligence. They have the source code; a perpetually free version cannot be a difficult "fix".

    Shame, shame, shame!
    • What Lutz thinks

      @wardbell I sent mail to Lutz to see what he thinks about it but he didn't answer. According to sources who know him, I've heard that he's ok and pragmatic about it, but I'd rather hear it from him.
      Ed Burnette
  • RedGate must be in financial peril.

    Otherwise, why would they take such a step, when they know it's going to generate a lot of anger.

  • Ripe for alternatives

    There are alternate decompilers/disassemblers out there, but Reflector commanded the most usage because it was free and very effective. Without the free part, and I don't care if it's $3.50 or $350, its allure considerably drops. In fact, its allure dropped when it went to Red-Gate and each download required an email address submission rather than just downloading the damn tool! (which I am sure they used to calculate number of unique user downloads, i.e., sales).

    However, what you'll see are alternative decompilers springing up, some yet-to-be-born, some already in existence but improving, and all perhaps even garnering inspiration from decompiling Reflector itself (in fact, Reflector was originally based on an MSFT .NET SDK sample project of the same name).

    So, short term it's a setback for the community; longer term though the developer community will have responded with a better and free workaround. Short and long term it will simply be a boneheaded move for Red-Gate whose execs probably watched a PowerPoint Marketing Guy put together showing how number of downloads/month * $35 USD = mad revenue, and like in way too many other software companies, they believed it.
    And I agree that this was planned all along.
  • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

    Redgate are scum and liars. It was obvious there was never any intent to continue providing Reflector for free when it was acquired. They only did so for so long to destroy any incipient competition. I hope this inspires some people in the FOSS community to commoditize all their software and RedGate go broke.
  • They could make it open source and give back rather than take.

    Why not open source it and give back to the community. People would be more interested in their other products. I respected RedGate when they took it over and looked at their other products, now I feel negative about them. I know its only $35, but they will now lose in the long run whilst alienating themselves. They could easily get the help they need from the community and keep it free as it always has been. Someone will just clone it and make an open source one anyway.
  • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

    Wow a tank of Gas is $80 here, and our hourly wage is lower than most US folks.

    But oh yeh wah wah wah I wants it free. its my Right. wah wah.

    I just hope they leave an old version available for free.
    Heck many anti-virus folks don't even give out free stuff anymore and they've got a whole virus farming market to leech off (notice how noone is fighting the viral/malware guys, but will sell you stuff about it. And people complain about this product??)
    • Re: Its my Right. wah wah.

      @mist42nz , you sound like a good American, amazingly steadfast in your belief that you don't have any rights. No, it's not the constitution, but a promise is a promise. Then again, that's why we have open licensing. The people who don't use open licensing can't be trusted to keep their word. (Which is why they don't use them) So who is really surprised here?
  • RE: Red Gate: We could not make the free model work for us as a commercial company

    Guys, relax. The news article seems to miss the point that Redgate will charge just a $35 life subscription to .NET reflector. It won't be a yearly license whatsoever. There wouldn't be any reason to do that since Microsoft also provides access to the source code through Visual Studio.

    If you ever used or subscribed to the Reflector mail list you would have gotten their email explaining the situation. I will quote the very first paragraph of their announcement:

    "Red Gate has announced that it will charge $35 for version 7 of .NET Reflector upon its release in early March. Version 7 will be sold as a perpetual license, with no time bomb or forced updates."

    They also clarify this:

    "As a commercial company, we need to charge at least a nominal amount to keep .NET Reflector up-to-date and relevant. Without revenue coming in, we cannot dedicate a team of developers to ensure that Reflector remains a valuable part of .NET developers' toolboxes. "

    This article was written with the intention of fanning flames where there's none. The truth is simple. They need money to pay their Reflector Team.