M & R Technologies President, Michael Raustad Interviews the "Father of Shareware", Jim Knopf.
In February, 2007,
I had the idea of doing a 20th anniversary celebration for
ASP. I invited the entire membership to submit questions for an interview
with Jim Button (AKA Jim Knopf), "The Father of Shareware", 20 years later.
MR: Welcome Jim, how have you been?
JK: Let me begin this discussion with a brief prelude: I have not kept
actively up to date with the shareware market and with what is happening. Twelve
grandkids, health issues, and hobbies have kept me pretty busy. I do spend
considerable time at my computer and on the internet, and I do browse ASPects
each time it arrives. But I haven't had time to frequent our web pages and to
take place in the discussions. So I consider myself considerably out of date
with respect to the state of shareware and with what is happening in ASP. I will
therefore be off the mark with some of these answers, and I may skip some of the
questions due to ignorance.
Q: Is shareware the same concept today as when you first started? If not,
what changed? Were those changes needed? What are your thoughts on the current
state of shareware? Is ASP keeping up with the times?
A: Definitely, shareware has changed since the beginning. There was no
association and no help and advice available in the stone age of shareware. I
experimented a great deal with incentives to buy (made a lot of mistakes and
took a lot of criticism). Electronic distribution was useless. No internet. No
web. Bulletin boards existed, but speeds were too slow and file transfers too
unreliable. So we had to depend on disk copying, computer clubs, and computer
software libraries for distribution. The internet has really brought shareware
into its own. I wish it had been available in 1978.The current state of
shareware? Shareware has proven itself as a revolutionary method of marketing
software. Shareware companies are widely respected. The power of the shareware
approach is seen by the fact that many large software companies use shareware
concepts (under a different name) to market their products. Even Microsoft uses
a freely distributed "try it out" (until it expires) approach. I believe that
ASP is actively keeping up with the times.
Q: ASP is now 20 years old, and we owe our success to pioneers such as
yourself. What advice would you give ASP today? What do you feel is our best
A: I guess I would say "Keep the faith. Hang in there, keep it up, more
of the same." You are a talented and creative bunch and you will spot the
"golden path" as it unfolds before you. Your greatest strengths lie in your
mixture of authors, sellers, distributors, writers, and aficionados. Boundless
energy and creativity will win out in the end.
Q: Some people think shareware is an "old and worn out word". Norton
offers a "free trial ware version". Microsoft offers a free "trial" of many of
their software offerings. What are your thoughts on this?
A: This is just further proof that we created something really good. They
want to take just a part of our approach and use it to their benefit. But in the
end, with their offerings, all the user has is an expired program with not much
else to show for it. We need to make the user glad that he tried it out and
offer some reward, or continuation of benefits and a feeling of partnership if
he stays with us.
Q: What do you see is the next big software or internet thing to come
along that is just over the horizon but not yet in view?
A: Ah yes, there it is, I can barely make it out. It's right there, just
over the horizon. Dang it's good. I wish I could tell you about it.
Q: What do you see needs to be done to make the Internet a better place
for sales? Is there anything in that for the niche player?
A: I'm sorry, I have no useful thoughts on this subject.
Q: You kind of hit the ball out of the park your first time at bat with
PC-File. Was the formula for success immediately obvious to you, or did you have
to have some less successful products before you formed a clear idea of what was
and wasn't going to work well for you?
A: PC-File was my first product. It did not begin life with intentions to
make it a product. I just needed a useful program for myself and my friends. But
I enjoyed programming it and enhancing it so much that it eventually took on a
life of its own. User suggestions shaped its evolution. I guess the moral is,
"Listen to your users - you don't know it all yourself."
Q: Microsoft is a member of ASP. What should be our approach to
"gigantic" software manufacturers, if any, or should we simply be happy they
A: We should be happy to have them, and use their name recognition as
much as possible to enhance our own.
Q: Do you still program, if so, what language do you use?
A: Yes, I still program today, just because I love the mental exercise
and the feel of creative juices flowing. Problem solving was always my first
love and that's what got me into programming. I normally use variants of the C
Q: If you were just getting started in the software business today, what
approach would you take to getting your products established and noticed?
A: a.) I would pick a product that was not already thoroughly covered b.)
I would do it so well that it had to be noticed. [hint]: I don't know of an easy
to use file/manager database product that runs under windows. If I had the
energy, I would do PC-File for Windows.
Q: If the meeting were being held tomorrow to form an association of
shareware authors, marketers and vendors, what would you like to see the
association do for it's members, the industry and the consumer?
A: I have nothing to add to the fine job that ASP is currently doing.
Q: Who was the driving force behind the creation of ASP and why? What
prompted you to get involved in the ASP?
A: The driving force was pretty obviously the need. Many people had been
asking for years for help with starting their own shareware business. I viewed
ASP as a way to help beginners. The two men who stepped forward strongest to
form the ASP were, I believe, Barry Simon and Nelson Ford.
Q: You have done many interviews over the years. Is there a question you
have never been asked that you would like to answer today or any thoughts you
have in general?
A: There is no question I have never been asked. My general thought:
probably the saddest thing you will ever see is a mosquito sucking on a mummy.
Forget it, little friend.
Q: Being a pioneer yourself, are there any software pioneers you look up
to today? Why?
A: The guys who created Doom were pretty outstanding. They proved that by
sheer force of programming talent and creativity, shareware games could succeed.
I had written off the idea of shareware games. I think the team that created
Paintshop Pro was also admirable. Again the combination of quality and creative
marketing. Even though he is no longer with us, I will always look up to Andrew
Fluegelman (not as a programmer) but as a creative genius.
Q: Any final words of wisdom for ASP members?
A: I would like to thank ASP for keeping shareware going. You are all
pioneers in the truest sense. And thank you for remembering an old obsolete guy
like me and giving me one more chance to be bloviate. I wish you all success and
the best of times.
MR: On behalf of ASP, thank you Mr. Knopf for a great interview.
Former member - ASP Board of
President - M & R Technologies, Inc.