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You Don't Always Want What You Get!

Back in the early 1990’s, JP Software was selling 4DOS (a replacement for the DOS & Windows 3.1 command processor COMMAND.COM), 4OS2 (a replacement for the OS/2 command interpreter CMD.EXE), and eventually (after the Microsoft/IBM split) 4NT, a replacement for the Windows NT 3.x command interpreter (also called CMD.EXE).

We were hearing a common refrain from our customers: “We like 4DOS (/ 4OS2 / 4NT)”, but we don’t need it on every desktop in our company. What we’d really, really like is a reduced-price runtime version that allows us to create batch files on the developer’s computer, and then run them on all the other systems.” I was a bit dubious about this intially, but after a hundred variations on the theme from different companies, I thought “OK, here’s a potentially big new market for us to break into.” We spent several weeks digging in the code, removing unnecessary bits and streamlining the rest to make a small, fast runtime version.

Then we proudly rolled out the JP Software 4DOS / 4OS2 / 4NT runtime versions to the waiting world.

“Yawn,” said the world.

Over the next three or four years, we might have sold as many as a dozen runtime licenses (certainly far less than 1% of our total sales), and never came close to recouping our development costs. How could this be? So many, many people had said they wanted it! Sadder, poorer, and wiser, we eventually quietly buried the runtime versions and gave our few customers free upgrades to the full versions.

Fast forward 10 years. I was developing Take Command 9.0, a complete reworking of the Take Command / 4NT code base. (See my previous blogs for a background on the design decisions for v9.0.) “Hey!” said the users, “We’d really, really like a reduced-price version of Take Command for those of us in companies that are still running CMD (or PowerShell). We want the Take Command GUI with all the goodness of the tabbed windows, faster output, better cut & paste, programmable toolbars, yada yada yada, without also having to commit to (or pay for) the full TCC shell!”

“Hmm,” said I. “Here’s a potentially big new market for us to break into!” Several weeks pass as I create a version of Take Command that includes TCC/LE instead of TCC, and we set the price at 50% of the full Take Command. We release Take Command/LE to the waiting world and sit back ready to bask in the accolades of a grateful CMD, PowerShell, and bash-using world, who can now revitalize their aging, clunky character-mode environment.

“Yawn,” says the world. Again. Seems that if you’re stuck on using CMD, you’re not interested in doing ANYTHING to make yourself more productive. Not a better command interpreter, and definitely not a powerful tabbed windows GUI environment.

Take Command/LE did a bit better than the runtime versions. It’s been limping along at about 5% of the Take Command sales for the past five years, taking up nearly as much development & marketing time as the full Take Command version. It may not have been a major money loser, but it certainly wasn’t achieving any market penetration. Especially not in the desirable multi-system license corporate environment, where it has been nearly nonexistent. The existing Take Command/LE users have instead mostly been home users who want to save some money and use TCC/LE with Take Command.

It doesn’t make sense to limit what we can do for the 95% because we’re spending half our time on the 5%. It’s time to pull the plug on Take Command/LE (and give the LE users a free upgrade to the full version).

So what have I learned? Nobody wants a downgrade, even if it’s cheaper.