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Author Topic:   Jeers... Discriminatory pricing in software development tools...
Black belt
posted 05-28-1999 04:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim_Salmons   Click Here to Email Jim_Salmons     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I recently went ballistic on the issue of de facto discriminatory pricing of software development tools when I found a commercial Tcl/Tk (AKA 'tickle') development product I just had to have. (To find out why Tcl/Tk is important read this post in our Executable Business Models forum.)

The inventor and some gurus of Tcl/Tk have launched a software development tool company based on the phenomenal success of the Tcl/Tk scripting language. After reading the product spec, I was hot to trot, ready to order sight unseen.

Tickle tool costs too much!

This tool I wanted so badly was roughly comparable to an offering from ActiveState for Perl developers. The ActiveState tool sells for a reasonable $99. Imagine my shock and disappointment to go to the pricing page of the Tcl/Tk tool developer's website only to find that this newly released Tcl/Tk tool is $1,200 per seat!!!... unless, of course, you purchase a departmental or site license starting at $15,000!

What a significant disappointment. Too bad for me, but more to the point, too bad for the Tcl/Tk community.

This Tcl/Tk start-up is obviously whoring after the corporate market, kissing up to the folks who didn't put Tcl/Tk where it is today, forsaking the independent developer in favor of corporate fat cats. What a short-sighted shame.

Just because we've always done it this way does not make it right!

Software development tool vendors are in a notoriously tenuous business. Their customers are the worst back-seat drivers and they are reluctant customers. If we could, all of us developers would like to first craft our own tools for our own style of design and development before doing 'real work.' But that is not possible under normal project-driven circumstances.

So we turn to software development tool vendors to meet our needs. Development tools have historically been priced under a limited-demand model. Obviously there is a larger market for general application users than there is a market for developer tools to make those applications. So the price-per-unit of development tools has been high. But competition and direct sales channels have brought the price of most interesting development tools within reach of the nanocorper or small business developer.

Admittedly, some products are still ridiculously expensive. Fortunately, these proprietary tools are geared toward niche markets which do not interest me. If someone is willing to pay an astronomical price for a proprietary development environment to develop proprietary technology-based systems for their own use, then by all means, go for it.

What drives me nuts, however, is the industry standard pricing model which implements a kind of de facto discrimination against the independent and small business developer. It's the volume-discount and site licensing model that is patently unfair.

An independent software developer needs, at most, one or a couple licenses for a development tool or technology. It is not our fault that we do not need many copies of a product. So why penalize us for the size of our businesses?

You cannot explain away differential pricing in the New World Economic Order

In the past, the argument for sliding scale pricing related to the intangible aspects of support. Using a 'single point of contact,' the argument went, the tool provider could offer discounts because supporting a site was only slightly more difficult than supporting a single user.

But times change. Most tech support is sold a la carte, as optional services. Basic support, regardless of customer size, is provided through listservers, newsgroups, or websites. The 'you cost us more' argument under these current market practices is baloney.

Only the tool vendor ultimately loses

The only victim of such differential pricing is the tool vendor itself. By pricing single copies out of the reach of independent developers, the tool vendor loses because the growing and proactive independent developer community will just move elsewhere. I guarantee Hell will have frozen over before you see me personally shell out $1,200 for ANY software development tool!

The most insidious source of the destructive results of differential pricing is the dependency which is created between the tool vendor and a handful of arrogant, whimsical corporate customers.

Personally, if I were running a Tcl/Tk tool company, I would want to see Tcl/Tk used everywhere by as many people as possible rather than kiss up to some corporate mucky-mucks who will not hesitate to blame the tool and drop you like a hotcake the next time their lame department misses a project delivery.

You don't have to believe me, just look at recent history. The rush to Java was not all about it being an 'obviously better mousetrap.' It was a cover-up by a large number of corporate development shops whose massive C++ projects were hitting the wall! Rather than fail, they switched tracks. You probably heard them. 'We did not miss our deadline, we have readjusted our schedule to allow us to switch over to Java!'

Selling development tools to the corporate MIS world is very risky business. If it were me running a Tcl/Tk company, I'd want to cater to and nurture my relationships with my real bread and butter market, the independent developer.

[This message has been edited by Jim_Salmons (edited 30 May 1999).]

[This message has been edited by Jim_Salmons (edited 01 June 1999).]

Black belt
posted 05-30-1999 02:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim_Salmons   Click Here to Email Jim_Salmons     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Naming names... Now I know what set me off... a lesson in website design

Okay, I was pulling punches in my initial post. I did not come right out and say that Scriptics was the Tcl/Tk tool vendor I was talking about.

As I reread the piece, I wondered if I had been too hard on the then unnamed start-up. So I decided to validate my position. I wanted to make sure that the price of TclPro was as high as I thought it was and I wanted to make sure that the ActiveState Perl Development Kit was still that cheap.

Well, I was wrong. The Perl tool was cheaper, $95, rather than the $99 I quoted.

The wonderful thing about my having done this extra bit of due diligence is, I got a great lesson in website design by doing a 'side-by-side-' visit to the website and the site.

Go ahead, you can do it now. See what I mean. Click each of the links in the above paragraph and a new browser window will be opened for each website. (Sorry, WebTV and other single-window access devices, you will have to jump back and forth between these sites to make this comparison.)

The e-Tease... Bang, bang, my tool vendor shot me down!

Here's what hit me so bad about the Scriptics website. It oozes 'low-cost-high-volume-impulse' e-commerce. The Scriptics site has all the look and feel of a happening, Internet-savvy development tool vendor. The in-your-face graphics, the upbeat presentation of lots of rich content showing they are truly the Gods of Tcl/Tk (they really are, no question there) and that they aren't afraid to link to other high-quality Tcl/Tk sites.

You read a little, follow a link here and there. This is way cool, you think. Tcl/Tk's going to get some quality commercial tools at today's Internet prices. Scriptics is obviously taking a page out of the ActiveState playbook. Tell me more, you know I want it.

The 'try it, then buy it' seduction of direct-sales software marketing is all over the place. (Oddly, the 15-day time limit for the TclPro free trial, rather than the industry-standard 30 or more days, sent a subliminal message indicating lack of confidence or desperation which I am sure the Scriptics folks did not intend.)

There's even a graphic of a shopping cart and a text label, Scriptics Store, that sent all the right signals. I have been there, done that, time and again for the last two years.

Why waste time with the 15-day trial? I can see that this is going to set me back a hundred bucks, one-fifty at most, just do it... I figure I am a couple clicks away from a new powertool for my bag of tricks...

Then, that bad dream started to happen...

On my next click, things started to disconnect. The store's inventory is a short bullet list. Item one, two links:TclPro licenses and TclPro support contracts!

Oh, no. Damn. I smell marketing double-speak for over-priced creeping in! Follow with me, click that TclPro licenses link...

You are routed out of 'the store' back to the TclPro product spec page, where way down at the bottom, you are informed that 'Named User licenses are priced at $1,200 per license...'

Screech!? What the heck? What happened here? I didn't smell that 'enterprise' strategy coming! And that's when I realized why I was so ticked off the first time I visited the Scriptics site.

They e-teased me! Scriptics sent all the wrong signals.

From a marketing standpoint, every day that the current Scriptics website is up there frustrating potential customers like it did me, Scriptics loses. After being burned on my interest in TclPro, I sure don't feel like spending twenty bucks on a tee-shirt or $25 bucks for a CD-ROM of stuff I can download freely from the Web!

And the irony, the current incarnation of the Scriptics site doesn't work for its intended audience, either. Hey, Scriptics, corporate MIS-types don't wear tee-shirts promoting computer languages. And they are leary of Open Source communities where its members do.

If you don't want my money, don't ask for it!

The Scriptics site doesn't have the smell of a hoity-toity enterprise tool vendor. Usually, I catch the whiff right there on the home page and adjust my expectations accordingly.

I might visit one of these mega-buck product sites to read about some interesting technology, knowing that I will never have access to the actual product. Such a site sends all kinds of signals telling me I am not wanted. No sweat. You have your game, I have mine. Let's agree to disagree. All I want is to read your information and ruminate on it. What I learn at such a site might substantively affect my own design and development perspectives.

But Scriptics blew it all around. What an unexpected and bad taste I am left with in my tool-savoring mouth.

What's a Tcl tool vendor to do?

As I see it, Scriptics has two choices; one is a Happy Great Win for the Tcl/Tk community, the other a too typical loser move.

Regardless of what Scriptics does pricing-wise, they need to align their website design to their corporate strategy.

The best move would be to drop the price of TclPro to $95, delete the couple pages now masquerading as the 'Scriptics Store,' put in a customer-friendly shopping cart...and watch the TclPro products fly off the virtual shelf!!! That would be good for Scriptics, great for the Tcl/Tk community... and I would get my copy of a much-wanted development tool.

But if Scriptics thinks its future is catering to deep-pocketed corporate MIS management, then they should yank down that inviting e-commerce site and replace it with one of those content-light, FUD-heavy sites geared to corporate management types... sell the illusion, sell the strategic partnerships, hold those purchase-decision hands through the sales cycle. And expect to bite the big one in a year or two when you sit back and try to figure out, 'What did we do wrong?'

Scriptics, the ball is in your court. Tcl/Tk needs good affordable, commercial tools. Will you give them to us or leave it up to someone else?

[This message has been edited by Jim_Salmons (edited 31 October 1999).]

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