(The views expressed in this post are my own and are not reflections of my employer, peers or any company anywhere. Take it as you wish.)
It was bound to happen. Honestly did anybody not see this coming? Reflector is officially a dead product to the majority of .NET developers. In other words Red Gate (RG) is making it a commercial-only product (http://www.reflector.net/2011/04/why-we-reversed-some-of-our-reflector-decision/). After some backlash they have decided to release the old version for free but read below as to why this isn’t quite as it seems.
First some history. Reflector has been around a long time – for free. Most everybody inside and outside of Microsoft will mention Reflector when talking about disassembling code. A few years ago the author of Reflector sold the code to RG. I’m sure the original thought was that Reflector would remain free and RG would be able to make money off Pro versions. How many times have we heard this story? Early changes were annoying but tolerable. We had to install the product now instead of xcopy because, you know, they can’t add licensing to an xcopy image. We also got the annoying “please buy our Pro version” ads. Again, annoying but tolerable.
As one could expect RG didn’t make sufficient money off the Pro version to cover their costs. They had to recoup the initial purchase price plus the cost of ongoing maintenance. Why would somebody pay money for something that is free? The only good answer is if the paid version had features worth paying for. What features did RG add that were actually worth anything? I can’t think of one. Let’s see, they added integration with VS. Funny, I had that by using Tools\External Tools in VS. They added shell integration. Again, had that by a simple registry change. In other words they added absolutely nothing to an existing free tool and expected that people would want the Pro version. They could have gotten sneaky and started removing features that were previously free but that would have caused an uproar.
So the folks at RG have decided that they can’t sustain a free product anymore and therefore are completely eliminating the free version. Even worse is that they removed all options for actually getting the free version before (or as) they announced it (just go read the forums). Fortunately (maybe) they have temporarily added back the free version BUT you must do the following: 1) have an existing copy of v6, 2) check for updates and 3) do so before the deadline (which I believe is August 2011). After that you’re out of luck. Even more sinister is that they say it is a free, unsupported version but the fine print says that you actually get an activation license for 5 machines. So what does that mean if you have to reinstall? I have absolutely no idea but it sounds like a limited version to me.
Now one could argue that $35 isn’t a bad price for Reflector and I would be wholeheartedly in aggreement IF 1) it was a new product that they had actually written, 2) it provided functionality that was not available elsewhere and 3) it hadn’t been previously available for free for years. RG probably looked at other programs (i.e. Linux) that have both free and paid versions and thought they could do the same. It didn’t work out. Their decision is undoubtedly a business one. While I can understand their decision I don’t have to support it. After reflecting on Reflector I’ve decided that I will continue to use the free version of Reflector until such time as a better tool comes along or my activations run out. Then I’ll switch over to the less useful, but still capable, ILDasm. All RG has done is angered those who feel betrayed by the “free-to-paid” switch. I doubt they’ll see any additional money.
What does the future hold for Reflector? Unfortunately I don’t think it is good. RG is trying to recoup their costs and I don’t think they’re going to be able to do it. Most devs are not going to pay for the Pro version if they have the free version (which is probably why the licensing is set up the way it is). They might get some new customers but I don’t know that it’ll cover the long term. I expect that Reflector is going to effectively die because of lack of money. The only way I really see Reflector surviving is for RG to release it to open source (again) and let the community support it themselves. Yes RG would lose money but the way I see it RG needs to cut their loses and go on.
RIP (free) Reflector. You were a good tool. You will be missed.