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MAZ Returns

Ben Schaffe was kind enough to forward this message to me, posted for Naoto Horii on GEnie by Bruce Tomlin of SoundMaster fame. Ben also mentioned that MaxAppleZoom 1.4 was out, and when I looked on America Online, I saw version 1.43. The version that was posted to yesterday carried the version number 1.42, but I unfortunately do not know the differences.

I very much want everyone to read and think about Naoto’s letter below since it outlines some of the many problems that a real-life, normal-person shareware author must face. Like other talented, responsible shareware authors (such as Dave Warker of Remember?, Bill Goodman of Compact Pro, and Bruce Tomlin of SoundMaster) Naoto managed an elegant hack without the financial and marketing support of a commercial enterprise. That’s impressive (and believe me, I get a sense of what a shareware author goes through because of my experiences with TidBITS). I’m not saying that all shareware is great, and in fact, much of it is worthless. But intelligently implemented programs that fill a niche in your electronic environment (be it reminders or file compression or funny sounds or a larger screen area) deserve your support. Perhaps the most depressing part of this whole incident was the number of people who admitted to not having (yet) paid the shareware fee for MaxAppleZoom. It’s not something to be proud of, folks. If you use it and like it, pay for it. If you use it but don’t pay for it, don’t brag about it and certainly don’t complain if it stops working for any reason.

If nothing else, think of shareware authors as a defense against the horde of corporate mergers that is quickly engulfing the market. At the rate the big companies are going there will only be a few companies soon, and you think Microsoft Holdings, Inc. or Apple, Conglomerated will be bothered to come up with something like MaxAppleZoom in a few years? No. So please, support our shareware wizards and also, be understanding if they can’t compete with a toll-free support number and weekly updates. Also, please accept my apologies for this editorial rant – I guess it’s my prerogative, but I try avoid overdoing it. Maybe I just need a couple of weeks off. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Take it, Mark…

From Naoto Horii, Brussels, July 15, 1991.

I’d like to present my apologies to all the users who were inconvenienced by the expiration date feature of MaxAppleZoom. I’ve heard there’s been a lot of harsh one-sided criticism about this on the net, and I’d also like to try to explain my position. It wasn’t planned that users would stumble like this upon this feature: When I wrote v1.3 – in mid-1990 – I expected I’d be able to release a new version in time to avoid any service disruptions. I wanted the next version of MAZ to be System 7-compatible, and I – like many ? – was led to believe by Apple’s announcements that System 7 would be available in late 1990 or early 1991 at the latest.

I was only able to get hold of a copy of System 7 in late May, and by early June a nearly final version of MAZ v1.4 was completed. This was several months behind my initial schedule. With only a few days left before the expiration date of v1.3, the program was obviously to be sent as quickly as possible to all the interested parties, but I couldn’t do it for the following two reasons:

  • The motherboard of the Mac I’m using chose this rather inopportune moment to die, making disk duplication rather difficult. The dealer tells me that the motherboard has to be replaced. It looks like component-level repair is not yet available in Belgium. This is a quite costly repair and I’m afraid the expense cannot be reasonably justified for a home computer.
  • While I was developing MAZ, I had to postpone a lot of important work, and the backlog was becoming critical. Although I knew I’d be in deep trouble if I didn’t ship the program in time, there was simply no choice. I feel a morally compelling sense of duty towards my registered users, but the actual amount of money involved is rather modest and I definitely cannot mix up my priorities. We shareware authors tend to understate the true source of the financial backing of our product, and thus users tend to notice it only when there’s competition for time between our normal and shareware-related activities.

But there’s a more important perception gap between the author and the users than the merely financial aspect. That is one about the quantity of time available. Let’s not forget that to be able to spend some of our time toying with computers to write and maintain shareware, we authors must spend a far larger amount of time doing more important, "real" work. I received really nice and heartwarming letters from my registered users, and I very much would have liked to respond to every one of them, but I had a dilemma: given the limited time I have available for shareware-related activities, do I choose to spend it writing letters, or do I rather try to show the registered users my appreciation by concentrating my efforts to enhance MAZ and make sure it remains compatible with Apple’s System upgrades ? I chose the latter option, because v1.4 needed far more resources than I had foreseen, and usage time of some borrowed equipment had to be optimized to keep the development costs down.

I usually cashed rather quickly the payments I received, but v1.4 development was proving to be too difficult and time-consuming. System 7 still wasn’t shipping and my other activities put heavy demands on my time. Once I had doubts that I’d be able to create a System 7-compatible MAZ, I could no longer cash the payments I received. The burden MAZ put on me made attractive the prospect of killing it and refunding the money of the previous registered users. Time and money were very tight, and this explains my silence during the past "few" months.

I think the expiration date caused a scandal because of the following reasons:

  • I wasn’t able to develop and send in time an updated version of the program to the users who paid their shareware fee.
  • There was no warning in the documentation, and MAZ’s death troubled a lot of people. Maybe there should have been a warning, but I first wanted to see how many spontaneous payments I’d receive.

I noticed, reading the messages on the net, that some people implicitly tend to assign a very high value to their own time, and they couldn’t care less about the amount of time authors spend to develop programs. I am a normal person, and I don’t see why the time I spent to maintain MAZ for my registered users – and "some" other people are benefiting too – should have an insignificant value. In v1.4 I’ve kept most of my promises I made in the documentation of the previous versions: System 7 compatibility, a clean, noise-less monochrome mode, support for a 24-bit video card and multiple-video card configurations… Granted, the program didn’t ship in time and users had to switch back to a 640*480 screen. But – as mentioned above – I think some people haven’t the faintest idea about what it takes to take a conceptual idea like MAZ and implement it in a reliable and transparent product, perhaps because the software is rather easy to use. MAZ development and maintenance took several hundred hours, and I’m getting tired of the discipline I had to impose myself since releasing MAZ to scrape together that much time. There are also a lot of other things I should have done or wanted to do during that period, not to mention the adverse effects it had on my social life. And if at my first failure the majority of the users gang up to treat me as a scoundrel, I’m definitely not getting a very good deal.

I still think that an expiration date – if it’s managed correctly – is an acceptable way to suggest to users to re-evaluate the usefulness of the program. This scheme is often used in software for large computers and causes minimal inconvenience compared to other protection methods. Let’s note that:

  • There is now a warning in the documentation.
  • The expiration date forces me to create and release updated versions to keep the program alive and all users benefit from it. As Apple probably won’t release System 8 before a couple of years, I’ll be able to better control the development schedule.
  • If I’m definitely fed up with MAZ, a commercial publisher could take charge of the project and expect some return from an unsaturated market. The firm will need it. As even equipment repair was difficult to finance, it won’t probably be easy, even for a commercial operation, to purchase equipment and pay for its maintenance, and pay decent salaries to a person responsible for distribution/production/user support and an engineer who will maintain and develop the program. And I wonder why an engineer would want to waste his time doing such a boring job. Advertisements and packaging costs won’t probably be negligible, either. The author would like to get part of the revenue, too (why not?) As the market isn’t probably that large for a program like MAZ, any business plans a small publisher might draw up has thus to be pretty good and credible.

Some people disliked the fact that I’m using a P.O. Box as my mailing address. A P.O. Box is a more secure way to receive mail, especially during the periods I’m not in Belgium. Also, I’ve heard that several locations in Belgium were burgled after their addresses had been published in a local Mac journal and I’m not willing to run that risk.

Naoto Horii.

Fare thee well.

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