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...." 😊