Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Tools of the Trade
Electronically Distributing Your "Killer App"
by Jeff Ganyard
A quick look at electronic software distribution solutions for the Mac OS
So you're sure that you've finally built the "killer app" all you need is a way for the rest of the world to realize it and buy it. Now you've got to get that marketing machine fired up, educate your sales force, start advertising, book booths at trade shows and most importantly, distribute that all important Internet demo version.
All right, but how are you going to get that demo version to compel the users out there to buy your software? How can you offer enough of the full application's features so that everyone wants it, but not so much that you cannibalize sales of the commercial product? The balance between features and limitations on "demoware" can't be found by a simple formula but you may want to look into Electronic Software Distribution (ESD) solutions. These products can help you easily build limited function, "trialware", "nag ware" or time restricted versions of your software. And when the customer makes the decision to buy the full product, they make their purchase and unlock the software that they already have on their hard disk.
Here's a quick overview of four of the ESD products for Mac OS: InstallerMaker from Aladdin Systems, InterLok from Pace Anti-Piracy, ZipLock from Portland Software, SalesAgent from Release Software Corporation, and Kagi, an electronic software payment service. The first thing you must do is identify the ESD model that will work best for your products -- each company uses a somewhat different model.
With the release of InstallerMaker 4.0, Aladdin Systems has taken their successful installer creation technology and added transaction capabilities to its feature list. There is no up front fee to create trialware with InstallerMaker. Their model is based on collecting fees from each product sale, starting at a minimum $5 per transaction and moving to a percentage in the range of 10-15%. (The exact amount is somewhat negotiable; contact their sales organization for details.) InstallerMaker is very easy to use, yet powerful enough to meet most people's needs.
Not surprisingly, the user interface looks and acts much like an extended version of StuffIt Deluxe, but with much more control over what can happen while the archive is being decompressed, files placed in required locations, separate items requiring registration keys, etc. InstallerMaker provides control over the number launches, the number of days until expiration or a fixed expiration date. The user is greeted with a dialog at every launch with information on how much longer the demo will be useful and options to purchase, register, or to use as a demo. Aladdin accepts payment transactions by phone, postal mail, fax and over the Internet using their own protocol. Aladdin uses it's own encryption technology for both the software and the Internet transaction.
Aladdin will provide daily reports on activity and monthly accounting. And of course, since it is InstallerMaker, there is the added bonus of a full featured installer combined with this ESD solution.
InterLok and InterLok Pro
Pace Anti-Piracy offers a very different approach. They have created what should be more accurately described as a developer tool for distribution rather than an transaction system. They offer their product in 2-tiers; InterLok and InterLok Pro. They base their model on quantities distributed per year and are not involved in processing or taking a percentage of the actual financial transaction. The process begins with their wrapper tool, allowing you to easily create distributable products with control over the number of launches, expiry after a set number of days or a fixed expiration date.
When the customer decides to purchase the software, a challenge-response mechanism is used. The wrapper technology will build a challenge based on a variety of elements. The challenge (and presumably the payment) is then sent by the end user to you, where you provide the response to unlock or register the product. Because this mechanism is variably generated by environment, the need for encryption is dramatically reduced, except, of course, for the financial transaction. Their goal is to provide ESD and serialization support for your product, while you take care of distribution and financial interactions. Their key technology can be associated to a hard drive, a key diskette or a simple pass phrase. They look at the characteristics of the media when the software is installed. This means that their unlock authorization and serialization will continue to be valid even after the hard drive (or other media) has been initialized.
Since you completely control the Satisfaction tool - the tool that generates the response codes - the transaction method is up to you. Phone, fax, email are obvious choices, and because Satisfaction is fully scriptable, the construction of a custom CGI to process orders is fairly simple. Release has included a set of docs on scripting the product along with sample web pages and a sample AppleScript CGI to get you started.
The Pro version costs almost twice as much as the standard version, but adds more robust encryption, support for non-executable files, network copy protection, key diskettes, limitation of application functions, installer integration and more flexibility of controls than the standard version though its own API. With the Pro version you could easily build a demo, trial, basic and a "pro" version of your product all from the same source. As a matter of fact, InterLok and InterLok Pro are an example of this. This would allow your customers to upgrade to a more full featured version of your product just by entering a new response code (that they have purchased from you, of course). Look for a Windows version coming around the end of this year.
Portland Software recently released version 2.0 of their product ZipLock. This version adds support for Mac OS and Newton products. They provide an end-to-end solution, where you can use their service for your transactions or you can buy their server software to handle your own merchant account transactions. Their approach is to build an ESD channel and provide the tools for you to participate. The first step is enter into a relationship with a clearing house, their current clearing house partners are: CyberSource Corporation, Internex PowerCommerce Clearinghouse and LitleNet, LLC. With that established, you will be able to use their builder application. (As of August 1997, they were working on a test server for demo use.) The distribution model is buy before you try, but they include the function for a 30 day money back guarantee to the end user. Once the builder has been used on your application, it can be easily distributed online or offline, or through whatever other means you wish. The clearing house will then charge a fee for each transaction, typically a dollar or two.
Portland Software uses RSA licensed encryption in both their package encoding and the purchaser to clearing house transmission. There is no need for a secure connection because the contents are already encrypted. They have gone to great efforts to hide the key information from the user. Once the user has downloaded the product, and tried to launch it, it will first verify the integrity of the package; when successful, the user is greeted with a set of marketing or questionnaire screens. One of the strengths of Portland's product is the complete customizability of these screens. When the user is ready to purchase, they must be connected to the Internet, the client product uses http to communicate with the server to perform the transaction.
If you are interested in purchasing their server software and becoming your own clearing house, they have that option. It is pricey, coming in at $25,000 and is available for Windows NT and Solaris only. You will probably want to expect some very significant sales figures to consider this option.
Release Software provides a turnkey solution. You send them your product, they wrap it with their SalesAgent technology and will either send it back to you for you to distribute or they will distribute it online, or both. This allows online and offline distribution for you. Currently their Mac OS product produces only "buy before you try" packages, but they intend to offer trialware capabilities in a release due at the end of this year. All of the sales information is available in real time through a secure web site through their Sales Manager program.
In addition to phone and fax, they accept transactions via HTTP or a direct modem dial-up -- convenient for customers who do not have a connection to the Internet. There is an initial "wrapping" fee of $500 per product and they will then take 15% of each transaction. Their technology places a SalesAgent on the end user's hard drive, to prevent unauthorized redistribution of the software. The same SalesAgent will handle all products wrapped by Realease Software. Since the transaction is controlled on their server, price changes can be made dynamically, however the price indicated in the distributed package cannot be changed. Their encryption is licensed from RSA and they use it for their wrapper and the online transactions. They also have received permission to export this use of RSA encryption. Because the user has to pay before accessing the package, it also well suited for non-executable and data file use.
Another alternative is a payment processing service such as Kagi. Kagi is a popular service used by many shareware authors. They will help you distribute the software and collect payments, but they leave the serialization implementation up to you. Kagi takes 6.5% of the sale price and passes on all applicable payment service fees; for example, Visa transactions cost an additional 3.5% and a $.032 transaction fee.
There are a variety of products and services available to help you distribute your software electronically. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. To choose the best for your needs, you must carefully research which distribution and transaction models suit your product and your business model. You can find more information to help you with your research at these web addresses:
- Aladdin Systems, Inc. at http://www.aladdinsys.com.
- PACE Anti-Piracy at http://www.paceap.com.
- Portland Software, Inc. at http://www.portsoft.com.
- Release Software Coporation at http://www.releasesoft.com.
- Kagi at http://www.kagi.com.
Jeff Ganyard is the co-founder of Mac ISP, supporting people and organizations using the Mac OS to build, develop and provide Internet services. He is also a contributing editor for this issue of MacTech Magazine. Jeff was formerly an Internet Evangelist for Apple Computer, Inc.