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M & R Technologies President, Michael Raustad Interviews the "Father of Shareware", Jim Knopf.

The Father of Shareware


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.

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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 So I consider myself considerably out of date with respect to the state of shareware and with what is happening in ASP.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 strength's?

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 embrace us?

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 language.

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.

Michael Raustad
Former member - ASP Board of Directors
President - M & R Technologies, Inc.
http://www.mrtec.com