Reflections on Red Gate and their decision to charge for .NET Reflector

The chattering classes in the .NET world have been buzzing about Red Gate’s decision to start charging for the .NET Reflector utility in March.  I’m been amazed by the hostility and venom sent their way.  Lots of nasty things being written in a forum provided by Red Gate.

Earlier in the week, Red Gate posted a open letter to the .NET Community that the next version of .NET Reflector would cost $35.  Previous versions had been free (with an enhanced version available for an additional cost).  You can’t use the free one indefinitely, there is a time bomb in program that forces you to upgrade every 6 months.  If you don’t upgrade, the program deletes itself from your machine.

The time bomb predates Red Gate’s purchase of Reflector, the original author, Lutz Roeder, implemented that to force everyone to use the latest version.  It’s annoying, but it kept him from having to support multiple versions out in the field.

When Red Gate bought Reflector from Roeder in 2008, he posted the following on his blog:

Red Gate will continue to provide the free community version and is looking for your feedback and ideas for future versions.

There is nothing in that statement that says that Red Gate has to continue to make new versions available for free.  It was never an open source project, and there is no reason to expect Red Gate to make it one.  I think they tried to make the business model work, but did not see enough revenue from the paid version to cover the free versions.  That is unfortunate, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.

The tone that some people are using on the Red Gate forum was pretty raw.  When you see topics like “Red Gate, you have destroyed your reputation” or “Your parents should be really ashamed!”.  It wasn’t all negative, there are a lot of thoughtful comments, but I was surprised by the dumb and nasty.  I don’t think Red Gate was prepared for the response that they received.  They probably should have provided more lead time to their announcement.

I think that Red Gate should put out one more release of the free version of Reflector, version 6.  This final free release would have the time bomb feature removed.  No support at all from Red Gate would be available.

I would also like to see other licensing options.  I would like to see a site or company license that would let any number of developers within the company use Reflector.  LINQPad is another great .NET development tool and Reflector could use a similar licensing model.  There is a free version and a paid version.  The paid version has more features and you can license it by user, group of users, or all users within a company.  If Red Gate could offer that, I would have a much easier time getting my company to buy it.

It’s a great tool and the price is appropriate.