Think .NET Reflector Is No Longer Free? You Might Be Wrong…

There's been A LOT of discussion about Red-Gate's decision to start charging for .NET Reflector.  For those of you tuning in, here's a really compressed history:

  • Lutz Roeder created .NET Reflector many years ago (full history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.NET_Reflector)
  • I venture to guess that the majority of professional .NET developers use the tool.
  • Red-Gate bought Reflector in 2008 (I remember because I saw Neil Davidson at the Business of Software Conference in Boston and asked him about it).
  • Reflector has been free, or had a free version available for its life thusfar.
  • Red-Gate announced yesterday that they'd start charging for Reflector in March with no free version available (as far as I can tell).  The price that replaces "free": $35.
  • Lots of people are going apeshit about a tool that used to be free no longer being free.

That brings us up to speed.  For some fascinating reading, check out the Red-Gate Reflector Forum.  I'm being serious here.  It isn't often that you get to see so many diverse thoughts, opinions, and expressions of outrage in one place.  ANY marketing person, product manager, executive, or entrepreneur would be wise to read the forum posts and comments for a mixture of warnings, lessons, and insight into the community/customer mind.

For my part, I don't have a strong opinion about whether Red-Gate is right or wrong on this matter and that's actually not what this post is about.  This post (like many other posts) is about behavior and action.  While I can't make Reflector free for everyone, I figure I can make it free for 10 people.  I've made enough money doing development work and consulting while using Reflector that $350 seems like a reasonable price for me to pay.  At the same time, I know that there are lots of folks out there doing good work that can't pay $35.

Post a comment about why you want a copy of Reflector by Sunday, Februrary 6th.  I'll pick 10 and buy each a $35 license of Reflector 7 upon its release.

If Red-Gate (or anyone else) should decide to match the offer, then the freebies go up from there.

UPDATE: Just got off the phone with Red-Gate and they've offered to match with 50 licenses (I'm still paying for the first 10 so I now have a total of 60 to give away).  As such, I'm extending the deadline through Friday, February 11th.

FINAL UPDATE: I was pleasantly surprised when Red Gate initially offered the additional 50 licenses, but I was blown away when I talked to them again and they offered another 50 for a total of 100.  Not only that, but they said that rather than wait for V7 to be released that they are going to be giving Reflector Pro licenses (the $95 one), which will convert to the Reflector VS license when version 7 is released!   I'll be emailing the folks who get a license on Saturday 2/12 and Sunday 2/13.  Licenses should arrive on Monday 2/14 or Tuesday 2/15. Thanks to everyone who commented!  BTW, if you missed the cutoff I see that Dan Maharry is giving away Reflector 7 licenses on his blog.

Comments

  1. Would love to chat about this! How do we get in touch with you?

  2. I used Reflector a lot to look into Microsoft's source code, it's faster than reading MSDN and more explanatory. Reflector is also priceless to understand how things are implemented (for example Linq). I will keep on using Reflector even if I have to pay $35 (even better if I get a license for free from you).

  3. Adam Robinson says:

    I've used Reflector for almost the entire time I've been a .NET developer (7 years now). I've found it to be an invaluable tool for figuring out where an issue is between my code and either library or third-party code. While the source code for .NET is available, with Reflector I know that I'm looking at what the code actually IS.

  4. Ong Zhixian says:

    This is very good tool. I think this is not a good move on Redgate's part. I remember a time when Reflector is competing against other .NET dissemblers. Maybe Redgate's move would revive those other other projects.

  5. Csaba Gero says:

    Reflector is totally indispensable, and for $35 it's a bargain, but getting it for free is even better :).

  6. As others have stated Reflector is a valuable developer tool and I use it ever so often. And if I where to get a licence for free I would be ever so grateful :)

  7. Reflector is worth $35, but it's a shame that it will no longer be free.

    I feel a little uneasy about stopping existing versions from working – why not just do a final update that removes the expiry date and adds a nag screen?

  8. I'm in the same boat, I've used Lutz' Reflector since I first found it YEARS ago, I don't remember when to be honest. I remember watching him progressively release new versions and I love what you could (and still can) do with it. I was sad that he decided to stop supporting it but at least he made sure that someone else would continue to support it, and still for free no less. The fact that RedGate is now not only going to be charging a fee for the next version (v7) but are also going be time-bombing v6, it's like a slap in the face. If it's proven inviable to continue to support and improve on Reflector, I agree with the opinion that they should have passed the torch to someone else willing to continue to develop it or even open it up to the community. That's how they got it in the first place, so they should honor it's origins.
    Let me be clear, I don't mind that they charge for their tools, if they had developed Reflector from the start for free and then decided they needed to charge for it, that'd be fine to me. But the fact is they didn't develop it, it was handed to them on a silver platter with a preexisting user base. I personally don't believe they have the right to charge for it. If they were really confident in the value their improvements add (which they claim to be the reason for the cost change), they wouldn't have felt the need to timebomb the previous version. To me it's a pretty sleazy way of doing business.
    Personally, I think they should open the reflector project up to the community, I believe that would be the best thing for the tool. Baring that they should at least remove the timebomb on v6, and let their price of v7 speak for the improvements they have added. If they are really worth the 35$ for v7 over v6 people will still buy it, and lastly I think Lutz had better be getting a portion of that 35$ licencing fee.

  9. Did RedGate actually buy Reflector from Lutz? I remember they took over the project but didn't know that they bought it? Even the wiki article doesn't mention that.

  10. James Randle says:

    Fair play to them for providing it free for so long, but i wouldn't be leaving this comment if they were going to keep it free!

  11. Nick A: Great stuff, thanks for posting your thoughts!  I have no idea what the deal with Lutz was/is, I hope he made some money off of it.  Im still seeing lots of interesting posts in the forums and cant wait to see how it all turns out.

    To everyone else: Thanks for commenting, please spread the word!  Weve just about gone through the licenses Im buying and well be into the ones that Red-Gate donated anytime now.

  12. I going to be converting a large amount old Win32 code written in Delphi over to C# and Reflector is big part of the process. I understand why Red Gate needs to charge a fair price for .NET Reflector, but I would love a free license.

  13. Reflector is not only a great tool for finding bugs in 3rd party software, or quirks in Microsofts implementation that I use it on a very regular basis.

    Not just that, but combined with plugins like Deblector it can even be useful for debugging strange issues on machines that simply can't be setup as a dev environment.

  14. Phillip Givens says:

    I've been using Reflector for some time. I use it on an almost daily basis and there doesn't seem to be a competitor to it. I've heard that the new versions will have BAML support as well, which will be very usefull to me. I will miss the days that I didn't have to keep this backed up on a disk. I got so used to being able to simply download it when I needed on whichever development machine I happened to be on.

    I would like very much to get one of your free copies of this product.

  15. Eddie Velasquez says:

    The Reflector "debacle" might be a PR issue for Red-Gate, but does any serious .NET developer not use it? I cannot count the times that I have fixed a bug or learned a cool trick or technique using it.

    No matter what I will keep on using Reflector, be it that I win it (hint, hint ;-)) or purchase a copy.

  16. Dave Meadowcroft says:

    It is (and always has been) a great, and possibly the most useful tool in a serious .NET developers toolbox. Well worth $35. Of course being human (a human developer – is that an t for freeoxymoron?) I would like it free, but if that doesn't happen they'll be getting my $ anyway :thumbsup

  17. Dave Meadowcroft says:

    This damn laptop keyboard seems to move the cursor around for fun when I'm typing hence the gibberish above! Apologies

  18. Jon Bates says:

    All,

    I can't say that I am grabbing for my pitch fork – redgate bought this tool, improved upon it and happen to owe us nothing.

    It has certainly gotten me out of a number of scrapes (Ildasm anyone?), and $35 is priced very modestly.

    Saying that, I wouldn't say no to a free license!

    Thanks,

    Jon

  19. I'm a .net developer for 5 or 6 years now, and as i'm currently learning to use WPF, i can't imagine the most useful free .net tool ever being now 35$. It's not very expensive, but the fact it's free always have made the tool even simpler to use. If you want me to learn correctly WPF, you'll give me a license :p

    Thanks !

  20. When RedGate took over Reflector from Lutz I discussed it with others in the community and the clear consensus was that it would end up as a paid-for product. My major concern is how often will you need to pony up? I know that v7 will have a perpetual licence but I'm guessing the v8 will require another payment and so on.

  21. I use reflector to teach student's basics of IL and how it corespond to heigher languges constructs.

  22. Jay,
    This is pretty awesome! Thanks for going the extra mile to try to help everyone out. I would love one of the free licenses if you are still offering.

    I've been using the free version of Reflector for as long as I can remember and was still on the fence about whether or not I could justify a paid upgrade.

    Thanks,
    Glen

  23. I use the older version of Reflector almost daily for the same reasons most people do – its indispensable. I'd like to buy the pro versions and pretty much all of Red Gate's stuff because they do make quality tools, but having recently started a new business requires me to not spend money unless absolutely required.

    Its always sad to see a free tool go paid, but they do have a business to run and nobody should fault them for that. I'd love to get the new version. Thanks for making this happen and thanks Red Gate for adding to the license pool, very nice :)

  24. I too have been using Reflector for quite a long time. If I recall correctly, I was turned on to it by a feature in the print version of MSDN Magazine.

    Recently, I have been somewhat vocal, at least on Red Gate's forum, about their recent pricing decision.

    There are two main points that we users find objectionable.

    Red Gate stated when they acquired Reflector that they would keep a free version available to the community. This has become a debate of semantics; was this a promise or was it not.

    Obviously, several users felt they were lied to originally, and that now Red Gate is having trouble simply owning up to the notion that they've gone back on their word.

    Personally, I take little issue with this.

    Their behavior, in my opinion, could show more class. What they stated originally is clear, so playing on semantics comes off cheap.

    But if they want to charge for the product going forward, fine. I can decide if it worth the cost, and, frankly, at $35 it most certainly is.

    I take much issue with the second point, however.

    Reflector for many years has had a "time bomb", after a period of time it would cease to run without an update.

    RedGate is going to leave this time bomb in place.

    In a few months, every existing copy of Reflector v6 will cease to function. Anyone who needs to use Reflector after that will have no option but to purchase version 7.

    They are quite literally extorting a large number of users with this move. It deeply violates my sense of fairness.

    Why can they not simply remove the time bomb from the final update for v6?

    If this for the sake of revenue, the decision appears exceptionally short-sighted. New versions of .Net, C# and VB.Net eventually bring users to upgrade anyway, and the next version of .Net is right around the corner.

    In the end, I cannot decide which possibility is more baffling, that Red Gate could not anticipate the response or that they could and went ahead regardless.

  25. That said, I'd still use the heck out of a give-away license ;-)

  26. Seth Valdetero says:

    I found reflector to be priceless for me a month or two ago when I had to reflect out one of our data layer DLLs because LINQ2SQL hardcoded the connection string as an attribute in it instead of looking at the web.config. Good thing too, because it was pointed to the test instead of the production database!

  27. When I need Reflector I have always been glad it was there. Primarily my use is to examine assemblies to find out how they work when the API documentation isn't what you need it to be. This includes overcoming the shortcomings of other developers and companies that didn't have the time or money to spend documenting their code. In addition, Reflector comes in handy when I need to use an assembly written by a developer that doesn't use English. Sometimes the only way to figure out why things aren't working is to look under the covers in order to figure out how the code is expected my code to work.

    I have also written several small utilities throughout my eight years as a .Net developer. In that time I have had several computers that have undergone several more OS images. During that time I have lost quite a bit of source code, but I still have the assemblies lying around. In addition, some of the projects are from VS 2002 and I don't want to have to install and fire up an old copy of that just to look at a piece of code I wrote 8 years ago.

    I think the fact that Reflector has always been free has given Microsoft a reason to not give developers an alternative. Now that the pay per use model is being implemented developers are left without the support they have just assumed would always be there. I wonder what Red-Gate would think if all of sudden the Apache Foundation decided to charge a $35 fee for log4net. I imagine they would switch to another free alternative like EntLib from Microsoft. I have no doubt that developers will start asking Microsoft to provide reflection based tooling in Visual Studio. When they do Reflector will be mostly forgotten, unfortunately for Lutz who I have a great deal of respect for. Until Microsoft does provide that tooling, I would sure appreciate a free copy of Reflector 7.

  28. I've been using Reflector for 3 years and now I am unemployed so getting it for free would be great.

  29. Reflector has been invaluable to me. $35 is pretty inexpensive. I just hope they don't use any draconian DRM. :)

  30. Geoff McElhanon says:

    It's always hard for people to start paying for something that they've always gotten for free. That said, I'm in for a free copy. :)

    But seriously. Can't spare $35? Don't eat out for lunch at all next week, and then buy yourself a license.

  31. I got a free 3 year extension on my 2 year paid subscription. :)

    Very nice.

  32. I'd normally be more angry about this, but $35 isn't much (compared to other tools e.g. VS, ReSharper) and I tend to trust Red Gate as a company – have been using their SQL tools for a while now, and I believe them when they say they can't afford to maintain it.

    Besides, if you're still not happy, you can still keep using the old free version, and no doubt there will be FOSS alternatives cropping up e.g. the one from Mono.

  33. Great tool, and it's a shame that it's no longer going to be free, since that will probably limit its exposed to those that aren't aware of it.

    Would really LOVE to have a licensed copy…hint, hint.

  34. To be honest $35 is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of time and energy Reflector saves me – it will join LINQPad in the category of cheap everyday tools that make my working life easier.

    Yes it's sad to see a free tool go paid, but I hardly think their pricing model is out to rip users off.

    I do have a bit of an issue with the time bomb though. Charging for a new version is fine but actively killing your existing product to force users into a "pay or don't use" choice (if that is indeed what ends up happening) – that's just a little bit evil.

  35. Keep in mind that the 35$ is probably going to be for Reflector alone. They've been charging 95$ per user for their Reflector Pro for integration to Visual Studio for a while now and that's probably going to still going to cost you extra. On a side note, I noticed that if you try to use Reflector on itself a large portion of the methods give a an obfuscation message when you try to view their disassembly

    // This item is obfuscated and can not be translated.

    Anyone have the last version Lutz' released to see if this is something RedGate added since they took over the project? I'm just curious.

  36. Considering how much I use Reflector, and how much I've learned from it, it's an invaluable tool for any serious .NET developer. Valiant efforts like Cecil not withstanding, there's just no competition.

    Having said that, I'd rather chew my right leg off before I ever consider buying anything from RedGate. Cheating bastards doesn't even begin to sum up my opinion of them.

    What did they ever add to Reflector after Lutz sold it to them? Ads? Broken promises?

    I just pray that JetBrains, or the OSS community will come up with an alternative. I seriously can't imagine life without Reflector. But damned if I'll ever pay RedGate a dime.

  37. I have to say Simon Galbraith seemed sincere and totally genuine at his dismay that RedGate are now having to charge for what the entire .Net community have expected to be free. While it does grate that I will now have to pay and I'm a huge fan and contributor to open source – I really think they are well within their rights and should not beat themselves up over it. Like Simon said "It's all about the commercial sense". If I had a choice between giving everyone a freebie or making an ongoing decision that will probably suck my company dry, lose everyone their jobs, etc. I know which choice I would make. Go On RedGate – as long as you keep up the good work with Reflector – you've got my vote. Stay ahead of the competitors and you'll likely have a good market share.

  38. Here's my take: RedGate was clear that they were going to continue to offer a free version. They've since backed out on that, and not only that, but they're trying to weasel out of their original statements by claiming they never "promised" anything. That doesn't sound like a company that's humbly and sincerely apologizing for where circumstances have led; that sounds like a company that knows full well that they lied and is now trying desperately (and pathetically) to save face. There's no reason to believe they wouldn't do the same thing again in a heartbeat.

    But wait! If you pay for the new version, it will work forever!

    Uh, yeah. We've heard that before. But given their evident lack of sincerity, why should we believe them now? I have no desire to trust them with my money. $35 is dirt cheap for such an awesome and all-encompassing tool, but I have no desire to give my money (and, thereby, my tacit approval) to RedGate.

    But if we're to the point where RedGate is handing them out, I would happily take a(n allegedly) free copy of Reflector… so I can compare it side-by-side with open-source tools like Monoflector, so I can help make the open-source tools better!

    (Of course, you're welcome to decide that that's an evil reason and that I don't deserve a free copy. My feelings wouldn't be hurt in the least. (grin))

  39. It isn't the money, I would happily pay $100 for what reflector gives me (I have the pro version now), however, it is the time bomb and promise that I can not forgive.

    If there is a free copy going, I wouldn't mind it, in order to see what is new/what happens, and well done buying 10 licences, however, the recent video was a load of crap – I have only ever used it for .Net 2.0 assemblies, and I do not need any new features.

    It is pure ransom – pay or don't use, and I am glad of Jetbrains news, I have several Redgate products, but I will not be purchasing in the future.

  40. I've been using Reflector for several years now. It is, by far, one of the best educational tools I've used to understand .NET and the CLR. It has helped illuminate the dark recesses of many .NET assemblies, and is especially helpful for libraries or APIs that have little or poor documentation.

  41. Couple of thoughts I'd like to share.

    1) Reflector is at the top of the must have tools list for doing .net development, no doubt about it. Not only can you learn how things work, but you also benefit from coding patterns and seeing how other developers implement "production quality" code which is a great learning tool. It is a simple decision for many to pay $35 for it, that is a great value. I just paid more than that to get auto-completion turned on in LinqPad and am happy with it because it increases my productivity which is worth more than $35 to me and my employer. Reflector is no different.

    2) I think RedGate may be making a needless mistake which will result in a negative mark on their brand. The type of person who won't pay $35 for a great tool will move to an open source solution. A Mono tool based on Cecil is and will be available to replace the free version of Reflector and RedGate will lose those customers. Instead, stick with the "bikini model" and give away 90% of the features for free and charge $35 for the premium 10% that power users benefit from. That way, they retain their entire customer base and make money at the same time. Better to keep a broader marketing base and make money off a few than lose all but the few.

    My 2 cents.

  42. Use it in my day to day development and debugging tasks. Just dropped by to mention that I find it interesting that I have not found good reasons from the red-gate crew that mentions why the development efforts are significant enough on a tool that is already written and does not even need to be maintained yet they are planning to charge for it. By that is just my 2 cents.

  43. I use Reflector primarily for one main purpose; to learn. Using Reflector regularly has dramatically improved my .Net coding skills. Being able to dissect the core .Net libraries he's been immensely helpful on more than one occasion.

    In addition, it's a quick and easy way to see how the compiler treats my code, which ultimately allows me to improve the efficiency of my apps. The benefits ripple all the way to my clients by way of happier users. Am I more deserving of a free license than any other developer, no, but I may be one of the best champions of the product, because I recommend it to everyone I know. Might I add that I'm presently seeking employment. I'm a pro developer of 16 years, and I won't stop using Reflector any time in the near future.

  44. Mark Allen says:

    I've used Reflector for years now. I was concerned when RedGate took over development but was reassured by their commitment to continue to provide a free version. Their decision to start charging for v7 and to leave the time-bomb in v6 leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Lets hope monoflector or some other open source (or paid for) solution will take over…

  45. I've used Reflector since it became available mostly to find out how some features – I'm interested in – are used or implemented. Even published parts of .Net source code as helpful as Reflector mostly because they are just a bunch of files without a cross reference so searching is much more difficult (although comments help). I don't think that the new price is wrong but I'm not sure whether I should trust a company that can change it's own decisions so dramatically.

  46. .Net reflector is one of the most useful tools for .Net developers. It's is said that it won't be free anymore but I hope it will be improved much more compared to current version

  47. Bjorn Nielsen says:

    When I first discovered Reflector several years ago it was a product so valuable, it was hard to believe it was free.

    $35 is definitely okay with me. I've used it many times. Pretty much everyone knows about it, and uses it from time to time. It's not that often that I need it, but when I do need it, I'm really happy it's there.

    I guess only time will tell how smart this move is for Red Gate. I think it's great that open source alternatives are being developed, that should keep RG improving on this new cash cow. Competition is good for all of us IMHO.

    If I should give RG some advice, it would be: Keep it down to 2 different versions instead of the planned 3 (Reflector, Reflector VS, Reflector VSPro). And lower the prices, so that the Pro version costs the $35, and the standard would cost only something like $10. I tried the Pro version with VS integration just the day before the non-free announcement, and I think it rocked!

    An alternative strategy would have been to accept voluntary donations instead of now charging for the hitherto free version. That could easily have paid for the future product maintenance, but that's probably against the nature of an ISV like RG, and would also raise eyebrows over any Pro edition that they would charge for beside it.

    Enough talk, sign me up for a free copy, please! I wonder if it can later be upgraded to the Pro edition at a cheaper-than-full-price?

  48. Disappointed that it will now cost – hopefully this will create competition and encourage new features to be developed. However, Getting a free copy would be nice…

  49. Greets!

    I missed the Friday deadline to get a license by posting a response to this blog; however, it is not of consequence as I have just acquired the Red-Gate .NET Developer Bundle and Reflector Pro is included.

    However, I do wish to say this: I have been using Lutz Roeder's Reflector since its infancy and watched as it grew into a fine "labor of love". I even felt bad for not offering up any donations for such a great utility. While sad to see it leave his hands, it was acquired by Red-Gate and hopefully he was compensated well for his contribution to the development community.

    I commend Red-Gate for keeping the 'updated' free version of the product for as long as they have (but I was not fond of the forced update) and honestly believe that the meager price they are asking for such a useful tool is not beyond what some people would pay for a night out to dinner for two. After all, professional developers get 'paid' for their craft, why should we not support those who cater to our own profession?

    I am looking forward to see what Reflector 7 has coming and I really hope they can do some good work in the area of decompiling those custom enumerators.

    Cheers!