.NET Reflector to Go From Free to Paid Developers Up In Arms

Red Gate Software is taking its .NET Reflector developer tool technology from being a free utility to charging $35 for it. Developers want it free again.

Red Gate Software, provider of the popular .NET Reflector development tool, has announced that that it will begin charging $35 for a perpetual license for the tool, which has been free.

The $35 charge has the .NET development community up in arms, as Reflector is known as one of the Top 10 must-have tools for .NET developers. Reflection is "a class browser and decompiler that can examine an assembly and show you just about all of its secrets," wrote James Avery in an MSDN Magazine article about the top 10 tools .NET developers need.

Reflector also allows decompilation of .NET assemblies into C#, Visual Basic .NET, Common Intermediate Language and F#. And .NET Reflector can be used to track down performance problems and bugs, browse classes, and maintain or help users become familiar with code bases. It can also be used to find assembly dependencies, and even windows DLL dependencies, by using the Analyzer option.

In a Feb. 2 blog post, Ahmet Mithat Bostanci, a software engineer for Microsoft Turkey, said, ".NET Reflector is one of the best -essential' tools used in debugging .NET Framework-related issues. It uses reflection classes and converts IL code into .NET code. (It can be called some kind of -reverse engineering.')"

In a video interview on the price change, Simon Galbraith apologizes to the .NET development community for raising the price, but says it was a mandatory move if Red Gate was going to be able to keep Reflector as a viable tool.

"Further development of Reflection does not make commercial sense," Galbraith said. "Reflector is a tool that has to stay current-has to work in all kinds of new ways, with mobile environments, with new versions of the .NET platform. We need to spend money on that, and at the moment, we can't do so in a commercially justifiable way."

Red Gate acquired the .NET Reflector technology in 2008 from Lutz Roeder, who created it as a free utility for developers. Roeder could no longer maintain the tool as needed because he was busy working at Microsoft on its Expression suite of designer/developer tools. Galbraith referred to Reflector as "the most miraculous bit of IP that Red Gate has come across."

He also said it was "very much" Red Gate's intention to keep Reflection as a free tool and that the company is "really sorry and really regretful that we made such a statement." Galbraith added that he thought Red Gate could make a go of it and even possibly come up with a "freemium" model where they would have a free version of the technology and a professional version for which the company would charge.

Meanwhile, in an open letter to the .NET community, Neil Davidson, co-CEO of Red Gate said:

"Red Gate has announced that it will charge $35 for version 7 of .NET Reflector upon its release in early March. Version 7 will be sold as a perpetual license, with no time bomb or forced updates.

As many of you know, our original intention was to maintain .NET Reflector as a free tool. But, after two-and-a-half years of providing it without charge, we realized that we could not make the free model work. We know that this will cause pain for some people in the .NET community, and we apologize for the change in policy.

As a commercial company, we need to charge at least a nominal amount to keep .NET Reflector up-to-date and relevant. Without revenue coming in, we cannot dedicate a team of developers to ensure that Reflector remains a valuable part of .NET developers' toolboxes.
One of the key issues developers are upset about is the forced update they are being subject to. A free version will be available for download until the release of Version 7, scheduled for early March. The free version will continue working until May 30, 2011. The Red Gate software features a "time bomb" that will make the product stop working unless the user upgrades to the next version. However, in an FAQ on its new pricing move, Red Gate acknowledges, "Actually the forced update has been part of Reflector since its inception. But it will go away as of Version 7. .NET Reflector V7 will provide a perpetual license, with no time bomb or forced updates."

In some of the forums on the price change, developers have called for Red Gate to turn the Reflector code over to the open-source community and leveled all manner of criticism against the company. Yet some developers also said they believe $35 is a fair and reasonable price for the software.

Meanwhile, in a Feb. 1 blog post about new features coming in Reflector version 7, Clive Tong, a software engineer at Red Gate, said some of the changes being made to .NET Reflector for version 7, include the new tabbed browsing model, the inclusion of Jason Haley's PowerCommands add-in and some improvements to decompilation such as handling iterator blocks.

NET Reflector 7 will come in three new editions: .NET Reflector, .NET Reflector VS and .NET Reflector VSPro.

The first edition is just the standalone Windows application. The latter two editions include the Windows application, but also add the power of Reflector into Visual Studio so that the user can save time switching tools and quickly get to the bottom of a debugging issue that involves third-party code, Tong explained.