Shouting 'Free' In a Crowded Internet

15 December 2008 by Jeremy WhiteJeremy White
Last spring, I was frustrated, because it seemed like many Mac users were not aware of CrossOver Mac.  CrossOver is so much faster and easier to try than any of the other alternatives, it seems a crime to me that every Mac user doesn't try it first.  It's not always the perfect solution, but when it works, it is very sweet.

However, since we believe in Free Software, and provide all of our core work to the free Wine Project, we're not exactly rolling in the marketing dough.  So we had lunch with our PR firm to see what we could do with a bit of creativity.  We had a lot of ideas, and this scheme of doing a Lameduck Challenge came up just as I had to leave the meeting.  The idea was we'd give our software away for free if George Bush could accomplish any of a range of fairly challenging goals.
I circle back later, and discover that our COO and Republican VP of Sales has decided it's a winner, and we're going ahead with it.  I had some reservations; I love to make light hearted jokes, but I was not interested in denigrating the office of the President or in offending a lot of Republicans.  But after being reassured that a survey of Republicans and Independents did not turn up anyone deeply offended, we pressed ahead.

We announced it with great fanfare...and watched it sink into nowhere.  No pickup, no interest, no buzz; a marketing gimmick that no one cared about.
We did some follow up work on it, had some fun with it, but again, we got little or no interest.

And then we had the financial market meltdown.  Followed by the radical tightening of belts everywhere and plummeting gas prices.  Suddenly what had seemed improbable happened - gas cost less now than it did a year ago.

Now we had a choice - no one but a few people had noticed (see 'sunk like a stone', above). We could just pretend it never happened.

But what the heck, a promise is a promise.  Besides, no one cared with the first round, so who was going to pay attention this time?  We'd give away 10,000 copies maybe, 50,000 tops.

Oh, how wrong we were.

I think that Andrew Lavallee expressed it best in his post on it:  CodeWeavers is learning what happens when you scream “Free Software” in a crowded Internet.

So we announced it on Monday, October 27th.  We had tested out our system for giving away the software the previous week; we have a rich experience that went through the whole process, got the customer an account and a support entitlement, the whole nine yards.  Late Monday night we cut over live to giving away the software, just to shake out the bugs.  (It was supposed to start at midnight, Central Time, we actually cut over at about 10:00 pm, 2 hours early).

Our first sign of trouble was that the server load shot up through the roof right then on Monday night.  It would not recover for several days.  Jeremy Newman worked with it that entire night; we kept tuning and optimizing the whole way, pruning parts of our rich experience down.  Each time we'd handle a new jump in the load, we'd get slammed even harder.  What was fantastic about it was that the traffic was coming from all over - we were reaching people all across the world, in all different walks of life.

I woke up at 6:30 and checked in with Jer, just as things started to really head south.  The last straw came when both Slashdot and Digg picked up on the story; our server simply could not keep up.  All of our tuning and trimming and slimming down to a bare bones rich web site just wasn't getting it done.

Now here is where being a small nimble company is extremely gratifying.  We had been from plan A to plan B through plan C.  Jeremy Newman had been up all night working different approaches.  And he still had enough gas in him to execute 'plan N', which was an utterly bare bones CGI page that took your email, slapped it into a flat file, and gave you a download and did nothing else.  Our site went down hard at about 8:30; by about 9:15, it was back up and running smoothly, handling every single request that came in.  The web site hummed along all of the rest of that day, the 28th, the day we had promised to give our software away for free. 

By the end of the day, we gave away 650,000 copies of our software.  We believe that is the largest give away of its kind in the world, ever.  It was much more of a challenge than we expected, but I feel very proud of our team and Jeremy Newman in particular; he made sure that we were able to fundamentally honor our promise, despite the unexpected and overwhelming demand.  I also should put in a good word for our bandwidth provider, Panther Express; they deserve a great deal credit for the files being delivered.

And, I believe, we reached more people in one day than we had ever reached before, and we have exposed a lot of people to the goodness that is CrossOver.  I am very pleased with that result.  650,000 people tried our software in one day (in typically takes us about a year to serve that many trial downloads); we more than doubled our customer base.

Of course, the jury is still out on what it's going to cost us; our online single copy sales have been down about 25% since the challenge.  It's not clear if thats the economy, the lack of a new version (we're working on it, really!), or the Lame Duck challenge.  It's probably a mix of all three, but probably the largest factor is the Challenge.  Even so, I'm very happy with the result - the more people know about CrossOver, the better.

One other great thing is that we were contacted and thanked by people from all over the world.  A lot of people gained an appreciation for what we're trying to do; the fact that we represent a Microsoft Free way to run Windows applications; the fact that we work with a broader community to provide freedom to our customers.

Now if only people would stop writing in and saying "Gee, I missed the Lame Duck challenge, do you think you could...." 😊

About CodeWeavers
Founded in 1996 as a general software consultancy, CodeWeavers focuses on the development of Wine – the core technology found in all of its CrossOver products. The company's goal is to bring expanded market opportunities for Windows software developers by making it easier, faster and more painless to port Windows software to Mac and Linux. CodeWeavers is recognized as a leader in open-source Windows porting technology, and maintains development offices in Minnesota, the United Kingdom and elsewhere around the world. The company is privately held.

The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.


New Comment

Shawn Fitzgerald
Posted 2008-12-16 15:44
Jeremy,

Thanks again for the Lame Duck Challenge!

 As a suggestion how about a donate button to fund work in general, as opposed to specific development pledges?   There isn't one thing that I want ported specifically, but just a general tightening of the system in general.  I'm not saying Crossover isn't a fine product, but there are always those little gotchas that someone always finds.

 I think in this way those of us that you have assisted with your fine donation through the lame duck challenge could donate a little back.   I would hate to think that your honest and upstanding attitude to carry through with the challenge might negatively impact the future of this fine product.  

Thanks
-Shawn
Jeremy White
Jeremy White
Posted 2008-12-17 09:06
Hey Shawn,

The idea is still there and percolating, it's just not at the top of the priority queue.  We did recently make the Wine donate button on www.winehq.org more prominent; that helps to sponsor travel for the Wine conference.  To be honest, we have the feeling that every purchase of CrossOver is a sponsorship of our work on Wine.  We've even had some customers buy CrossOver and then write to say they have no plans to use it, but just wanted to support us.  😊

Cheers,

Jeremy
bethmotes
Posted 2008-12-18 23:31
I love your software, I used the trial version to test out with Picasa 3 and found it to work perfectl. In this economy though, I just can't afford to pay that much for anything that is not necessary. Maybe a Holiday discount? If not, maybe things will look up this summer for me :)
Alex Boschmans
Posted 2008-12-20 07:53
I'm convinced that if you can maintain the quality of CrossOver as it is now, and *regularly* update it so it is compatible with hot new software (in my case : games) that you will get ahead and that in a year or so you will notice the difference in sales or renewals.

One thing I'm worried about : Codeweavers seems to be a *really* small company, where lots of people do lots of things. When you suddenly get 650 000 people coming over to your website to complain about a program not working or demanding for you to fix it so the very latest game/office software works, I hope you can cope and keep your message boards alive.

About once a month I check your message boards (advocates) - it's always a let down to see that only about 5 people have left a new message since the last month, and many of those don't even have an answer or a comment from CW. This really gives the impression of talking into an empty desert... You ask yourself : does it matter whether I leave a message or not ?

[Still glad one of your team left a message in November with what you guys where up to, working hard, good to hear that]
erifneerg
erifneerg
Posted 2008-12-24 20:44
I gotta say, now that i have a copy of the software to play TF2 and seeing how well it plays, I am really pumped for the next version. I will pay for the update as well. Playing tf2 on here without bootcamp is soo great. Once DX9 is supported, I will pay good money for that. Sure Parrells and VMFuse can kinda do that but it takes FOREVER to start up. Crossover isn't nearly as bad. Slow but worth it.
As a web designer, I would love to see the day IE7 runs in crossover.

Again thanks for all of this stuff and i can't wait to see the next update.
Greg Demetrick
Posted 2008-12-27 10:35
Is a blog really a blog if it has no RSS feed and the subscribe links don't work? Can you define the RSS link in your header so my browser can pick it up and I can subscribe? Thanks!

i.e. The following but with a working XML link:

<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS 2.0" href="https://www.codeweavers.com/about/people/blogs/jwhite/index.xml" />
Jeremy Newman
Jeremy Newman
Posted 2008-12-30 13:47
Sorry, that is the fault of the web developer.. aka me. A recent backend change broke the RSS header generation.

All fixed now.
Kaoro
Posted 2009-01-18 07:25
I completely agree with Alex Boschmans. I think that the releases need to be faster, and support newer games not long after they are released. Only then will people actually consider Crossover Games to be a viable alternative to Bootcamp/Virtualization.

I just bought Crossover Games Mac. I think it has a long way before it's actually usable. Sure it works with a few Valve games nicely, but there are more games than Valve games! I knew what I was getting into - I bought it because of the excellent upgrade policy (thank you Codeweavers). Support them now and hope for better things to come.

The forums are not very active. There's tons of questions asked, and not many responses. That and the test version looks like it was released Sept. 08 and it has still not resulted in a new stable version... I hope the new release this blog post is talking about is more than this late maintenance release!
Owen
Posted 2009-01-24 14:01
Well I missed out on the challenge but was offered a 75% discount off the price and so was more than happy to purchase both versions of the software. :)

Thanks and keep up the great work.

Owen
Dylan Mahoney
Dylan Mahoney
Posted 2009-10-27 09:55
Codeweaver devs,

If you want to reach a larger audience for being known why not come out with a "lite" version or free version of crossover freely downloadable via torrent. This would attract more people to use it and motivate them more to purchase the full version.giving enough what the people want in a feature of pro or whatever version someone downloads. I firmly believe if you reach the crowd of Bittorrent most certainly would give codeweaver devs to be more motivated to update since just about every torrent site has user comments and interactions with the software itself. Infact could even track the userbase through torrents.
If you really wanted to push marketing you could even do the "initation code" like what google did in the begining word of mouth pushes marketing. see where google is now? ;)
these are just open suggestions. codeweaver devs should contact me if they would like further push I could help with international spreading of codeweaver software.

for the record ... i've used wine since the begining and comparatively with codeweavers. There are things codeweavers do that wine devs haven't well or yet.
Kwpolska
Posted 2009-11-08 02:28
Hi,
i needed to come back to Windows. Where I can get my copy now?
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