My First Shareware Utility Program

I had been programming computers since about 1980. Like many, I started coding in BASIC followed by Z-80 assembly language. After that, my adventures spanned a number of languages and computer systems.

In the early 1990’s, I had decided to release a utility using the “shareware” marketing method. This entailed providing a trial copy of the particular unit of software that the prospective customer could try before licensing. This model is so common in modern times that the word “shareware” has all but disappeared.

I had an idea for a program that I could try to use to test the shareware waters. I knew of a few Bulletin Board System (BBS) system operators who had been wanting support for keyboard macros in the sysop-to-user chat function in their MS-DOS-based BBS systems. I build a Terminate-but-Stay-Resident (TSR) utility called KeyMac. KeyMac was a TSR program that could load a list of text strings that were bound to certain key combinations on the keyboard. After loading KeyMac, if you pressed a specified key, the text string would be sent through the system in such a way that the OS thought that the characters were being typed at the keyboard. This enabled sysops to put together all sorts of custom chat greetings and such.

I put together an archive containing the executable file materials and documentation. I uploaded it to a few places and I announced it on some nationwide BBS forums. I believe that I received exactly two registrations in postal mail.

I had only asked for three U.S. dollars for the registration fee. One of my two users was having difficulty using his copy, so I got on the phone with him. In those days, long-distance phone calls could be costly. I quickly lost anything I’d earned from that three dollars in phone charges for the conversation that followed.

I also ended up talking to my other registrant. He used KeyMac for all kinds of things, automating hot-keys that would launch batch files and that sort of thing. He was very happy with the utility.

From this experience, I learned that I really hadn’t charged enough for the utility. I lost money on my first support call. I was going to have to find a way to handle support that wasn’t so expensive. I also wasn’t really able to get the word out on such a niche utility, even though I thought I had kind of a captive audience on the BBS forums.

I was determined to try again, although it would end up taking me a few more years.