September 8, 2013

Tinderbox Updates

The recent tumult over upgrades reminds me (and several correspondents) that our upgrade policy for Tinderbox has always been considered unusual and often problematical.

I’ve never understood this.

The way we do it: When you buy Tinderbox, you get a year of free upgrades. When you buy an upgrade, you get the current version, and any versions that appear in the next year.

Why we do it this way: Nobody likes to buy version N, only to discover that version N+1 shipped the next day. Customers who try to avoid this wind up playing complex games, trying to guess the optimal moment to upgrade. That’s not much fun.

It’s better if everyone upgrades. Support for old versions is difficult, costly, and unsatisfying. In the very best case, you tell someone that yes, their bug has been fixed or their feature has been added, and if they pay you they can get back on track. This is better than our famous overnight bug fixes, but people often think you’re being mean or trying to extort money from them. So it’s altogether better if they’ve been using the latest version all along.

This isn’t terribly unusual. A lot of companies give you free upgrades until “the next major release.” Those releases happen every years or so; it adds up to the same thing.

A lot of companies don’t provide minor releases, or only provide them through tech support. So, all they need is a grace policy right before the release date — typically 30 or 90 days. Since there won’t be another release this year, you’re getting a year of releases.

A few developers promise free upgrades forever. I don’t understand that, not if you expect your product to last more than a year or two. Upgrades are hard — Tinderbox Six is the largest thing I’ve ever written — and they offer great benefits. The upgrade revenue stream matters a lot.

Nonetheless, people hate our policy. There used to be a steady stream of complaints on various software sites to the effect that we were somehow doing a Bad Thing. It bugs the hell out of me, but it’s just one of those things.