Beware upgradeware

fungi.jpgSome years back my wife bought a PC and got a ‘free’ inkjet printer with it. It was a really lousy printer, but hey, it was free. When it ran out of ink we tried to get a new inkjet cartridge, but the cheapest set of cartridges we could find was £80. That was 4 times the price of other comparable cartridges at the time. Some further research showed that you could buy the printer for £20 – with cartridges! Their ugly sales tactics didn’t work. We threw it in the dustbin and bought an Epson inkjet, which gave years of sterling service using third party sets of cartridges costing less than £10.

When I started my company I had a thousand decisions to make. One of them was which software to use to create and maintain my new product website. It just so happened that my new ISP ( was offering a bundle of ‘free software worth £x’ when you signed up (I forget the amount). It included a web design package (NetObjects Fusion 8 ) and an FTP package (WISE-FTP). Hoorah, free (as in beer) software and 2 less decisions to make. I was weak. Instead of spending time checking out reviews and evaluating competitors, I just installed and starting using them. It didn’t occur to me that they might be using the same sales tactics as the manufacturer of the lousy printer. In this imperfect world, if something appears too good to be true, it usually is. And so it was in this case. I grew to hate both these pieces of software.

WISE-FTP was just flaky. It kept crashing and displaying German error messages, despite the fact that I had installed the English version. No problem, I just uninstalled and installed FileZilla which is free (as in beer and speech), stable and does everything I need and more.

NetObjects Fusion was flaky and hard to use. By saving after every edit I could minimise the effects of the regular crashes and I assumed that I would learn how to work around other problems in time. But I never did. By the time I decided that the problems were more due to the shortcomings of NetObjects Fusion as a software package, rather than my (many) shortcomings as a web designer, it was a little late. I had already created an entire website, which was now stored in NetObjects Fusion’s proprietary database. Some of the bugs in NetObjects Fusion are so major that one wonders how much testing the developers did. My ‘favourite’ is the one where clicking a row in a table causes the editor to scroll to the top the table. This is infuriating when you are editing a large table (my HTML skills haven’t yet reached the 21st century).

In despair I eventually paid good money to upgrade to NetObjects Fusion 10. Surely it would be more stable and less buggy after two major version releases? Bzzzzt, wrong. The table scrolling bug is still there and it crashed 3 times this morning in 10 minutes. Also, every time I start it up the screen flashes and I get the ominous Vista warning message “The color scheme has been changed to Windows Vista Basic. A running program isn’t compatible with certain visual elements of Windows”. Even just trying to buy the software upgrade off their website was a confusing nightmare. The trouble is that it is always easier in the short-term to put up with NetObject Fusion’s many shortcomings than to create the whole site anew in another package.

For want of a better term I call this sort of software ‘upgradeware’ – commercial software that is given away free in the hope that you will buy upgrades. This is quite distinct from the ‘try before you buy’ model, where the the free version is crippled or time-limited, or freeware, for which there is no charge ever. Upgradeware is the software equivalent of giving away a printer in the hope that you will buy overpriced cartridges. Only it is less risky, as the cost of giving away the software is effectively zero. It seems to be a favoured approach for selling inferior products and it is particularly successful when there is some sort of lock-in. It certainly worked for NetObjects in my case.

Norton Anti-virus are the masters of upgradeware. Norton Anti-virus frequently comes pre-installed on new PCs with a free 1-year subscription. The path of least resistance is to pay for upgrades when your free subscription runs out. By doing these deals with PC vendors, Symantec sell vast amounts of subscriptions, despite the fact that Norton Anti-virus has been shown in test after test to be more bloated and less effective than many of its competitors. And if you think Norton Anti-virus doesn’t have any lock-in, just try uninstalling it and installing something else. It is almost impossible to get rid of fully. Last time I tried I ended up in a situation where it said I couldn’t uninstall it, because it wasn’t installed, and I couldn’t re-install, because it was still installed.

I feel slightly better now that I have had a rant about some of my least favourite software. But there is also a more general point – ‘free’ commercial software can end up being very expensive. Time is money and I hate to think how much time I have wasted struggling with upgradeware. So be very wary of upgradeware, especially if there is any sort of lock-in. When I purchased a new Vista PC, the first thing I did was to reinstall Vista to get rid of all the upgradeware that Dell had installed (Dell wouldn’t supply it to me without it). You could also draw the alternative conclusion that upgradeware might be a good approach for making money from lousy software. But hang your head in shame if you are even thinking about it. It would be better for everyone if you just created a product that was good for customers to pay for it up-front.

Ps/ If you fancy the job of converting to beautiful sparkly clean XHTML/CSS and your rates are reasonable – feel free to contact me with a quote.

9 thoughts on “Beware upgradeware

  1. Pingback: Beware of Upgradeware

  2. Brit

    I bought NetObjects back when it was in version 4. When a new version came out, I was hoping that it would be more powerful and more stable than the last version, so I upgraded. I found the newer version to be just as unstable and have all kinds of quirks. If I remember correctly, I didn’t think it was any worse or better than the previous version, but I was pretty irritated that I had spent money on an upgrade and gotten nothing better than my previous version. I decided that I wasn’t ever going to upgrade NetObjects again. A while later, I got the NetObject 8 with 1and1 as well. It really isn’t any better than NetObjects 4 in my opinion. Further, NetObjects 8 has some quirky behavior where the items appear in dramatically different positions on the webpage than they do in the editor (which is infuriating). It seems like the NetObjects team is changing stuff, but I wouldn’t really call it “improvements”. It seems like a lot of lateral movement back and forth – maybe then underlying source code is a complete lemon, and they can’t change anything without accidentally breaking something.

  3. Hugh O'Regan

    I ran across your email message because I was looking for a free Version 9 On NetObjects Fusion.
    I have a paid version but was looking for another copy for a non-profit organization in San Francisco which does not have a lot of cash on-hand. Here is my reply, and no I am not a shill
    for NetObjects….. just a user.

    I love this product, in my opinion it is the most underrated WYSIWUG Web editor out there. I started with Version 2 and have upgraded to
    4, 6,7, and 9. I have not upgraded to 10 so I cannot comment. (I do not upgrade unless I need the new features, that is an old lesson that
    I have learned.

    I did experience bugs in NOF in the early versions but they were always corrected in the versions bug fixes. In my opinion there is not a product out there that will allow the user to create and maintain a small, medium or large sized website as easily as NOF.

    Learning the product is deceptively simple and I also learned that
    with NOF using tables helps tremendously.

    Here is one of my web sites which I used NOF to create and maintain.

    Hugh O’Regan

  4. Hugh O'Regan

    hmmmmmm. My website address did not display in my last message.
    Maybe I violated some rule about URL’s I apologize if I did.

    If you want to see a NOF site, google me with: “votf san francisco”
    the title is Voice of the Faithful Northern California. Here is the
    URL again if you don’t see it do the google.

  5. Andy Brice Post author


    Have you found the problem where clicking in a table scrolls to the top of the table (even if its a huge table)? If so, do you know a workaround?

  6. Hugh O'Regan


    You know that has happened to me once or twice in the past. However, right now I cannot
    reproduce it on the 30 row test table I just created. You told me that this happened on
    versions 8 and 10 for you. And I am using version 9 so I am not sure I can help.

    One of the reasons why I stick with NOF is that it has a dedicated user group which does
    a tremendous job of supporting each other. The group is free and open to all. I am sure that
    they will be able to help you.

    NOF Usergroups may be found at:

    I will bet that someone will step forward and provide a solution. These are not NOF employees
    only users who have stuck with the product.


  7. Legacy 7

    Please, the original poster is correct, Netobjects is a nightmare. I made a ‘go to menu’ to click on internal links. One minute it works and when I upload it again after making changes to another page, the menu doesn’t work anymore. I would go back and redo the go to list again and upload with no prevail. The bottom line, you can’t defend the company with too many consistent users that have expressed their like problems both on here and other websites that I’ve looked at where the problems are the same. And what sucks is, I will save my work just in case the program will crash. I was working, saved my work and accidentally unplugged my computer yesterday, everything that I had done, was gone.

    I use other software, Dreamweaver, Flash, Swishmax and when I save my work just in case a crash happens, the work is still there. Netobjects suck big time, regardless that it’s a easy program to use. Dreamweaver has changed a lot and is alot easier to use. I just picked up CS4, so far so good.

    They need to do a inspection on software from these types of companies before they release them to the public. Netobject is what Ford Motoes was for many year to the consumer with crappy cars.

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