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TextExpander 6 or How Not to Launch Your SaaS (rhymeswithdiploma.com)
107 points by arm on April 6, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 80 comments

I recently started using PHPStorm for some of my PHP coding. They have an interesting hybrid purchase model that I consider very fair.

The way it works is that there's a monthly subscription to start using it. While you're paying monthly, you get every update included. The twist is that, after 12 months of payments, you obtain a perpetual license. If you decide to stop the subscription at any time, you're able to continue using up to the most recent update before you canceled.

As much as jetbrains has annoyed me, I really love this new business model that they come up with.

I almost want to buy a subscription, only I prefer Netbeans.

We'll so how long it takes before Oracle finds out it owns Netbeans and destroys it and I have to go back.

I'd try IntelliJ if I were you -- really, Netbeans is no match.

I have, time and time again, and I still give it a try every time they release a new version.

I even had a license back in the days. I just prefer Netbeans the same I prefer Linux or even modern Windows versions over Mac, even though I have used a Macbook pro for almost three years.

That is not the model they use, you fallback farther than you think sometimes.


Thanks for this link. I don't particularly like it but this is the clearest explanation that I've seen.

On the plus side, it does encourage them to have a major release every year so they can keep resetting that 12 month clock.

And if it's a trivial "major" release, then you can fallback to the last version without much loss. If it's a useful major release, it's motivation for you to hang around.

You fall back to whatever release was available 12 calendar months ago.

I think it's pretty simple, and easy to figure out what you have.

Indeed very interesting. I would love to see Adobe get on that. But I'm sure they still prefer people to pay the full monthly license for ever. :(

So, sort of 'rent-to-own' on the internet?

The subscription also costs less in subsequent years if you pay yearly. From year three and onward you pay less than 60% of the year one price. Makes it seem very fair.

I like that sort of discount. Could easily be setup to just be a 10% discount for every year you've been a paying customer. Encourages loyalty longterm as competitors pop up.

I use their tools daily and would happily pay 2-3x more per year easily. They deserve every cent and more.

IntelliJ uses same model I believe.

It's the same company - jetbrain.

I think PHPstorm, webstorm, etc are forks of intellij

I hadn't heard this news. I'm sure it's not as insane as it sounds, i.e., I'm sure they must have their reasons for thinking this is the way to go, but as a long-time TextExpander user I'm disappointed. I would never pay $5/month for TE. I bought it, and paid for upgrades, because it suits my need as an individual user. I have no need for "team" features and their decision to intentionally break existing sync functionality in order to force users to accept their new pricing scheme borders on extortion. I'll continue to use TE5 for the time being while I investigate other, more reliable options.

Curious, as someone in a similar position as Textexpander: Don't you think TE will be able to provide with more, stable updates thanks to the stable income a subscription provides? Selling software is a lot like living under the gun constantly . The sentiment seems to be that people use TE a lot, daily. Why not support the developer(s) behind this service?

TextExpander has been around for a long time. I'm using version 5, i.e., the fourth major version upgrade. There's little or nothing else that needs to be added to the product at this point.

They charged an upgrade fee for new major versions. IIRC, it was $19.95 to upgrade from v4 to v5. I didn't mind paying that, even if the new features were minor (I can't even remember what they were -- and I think I actually upgraded only because v4 wouldn't work anymore on a newer version of OS X, though my recollection could be wrong).

That's the life-cycle of software products sold on the traditional model. At some point you need to realize you've wrung all the money you can out of upgrades, and if the revenue from new sales and (increasingly rare) major upgrades isn't enough to live on, well, you better develop some new and different products. Of course it's better for you as a developer if you can convince people to pay you $60 per year in perpetuity for your small utility app, rather than just collecting a one-time $30 sale and occasional upgrade fees, but just because that's your super-dream-fantasy business model doesn't mean it makes any sense for customers.

I think the point is that people don't particularly care whether TE will be able to provide more stable updates, because they are fine with the current functionality at the current price.

Perhaps in this case TE should have done a better job of positioning the value that would come from their ability to deliver more stable updates, etc. I'm not familiar with TE, but do you think it's users would view that it was unreliable and needing regular updates or new features?

>Curious, as someone in a similar position as Textexpander: Don't you think TE will be able to provide with more, stable updates thanks to the stable income a subscription provides?

What updates? Most updates are fluff even in something as complex and demanding as Photoshop and Word.

TextExpander is a glorified text-replacement tool. They'll just start cramming more crap in to call it "updated".

Sure. But I think the issue is more that the total cost of ownership for TE has just greatly increased and the payment model changed.

People aren't upset because smile is trying to make good software and a profit. They're mad because they feel there's been a bait and switch.

> Don't you think TE will be able to provide with more, stable updates thanks to the stable income a subscription provides?

Sure, but there's a return on investment calculation. If TE bumped that to $50 a month, they'd be able to make lots of stable updates. They might even be able to justify it with "but look at how much time/money we're saving you!" But psychologically, it's a small tool that does very little compared to other things that cost less. The direct competition is priced in the $5-$25 forever range, and other apps in its price range are vastly more complex.

Even if it made financial sense for me to pay 10x its current price, I'm not going to shell out that much for what I perceive as a convenient-but-replaceable little utility.

It may provide the income stream, but it doesn't provide the same incentive to deliver. And strong-arming your customers is basically never a good move.

TextExpander has always been straddling the markets of "casual consumer with $20 to spend on an app that reduces pain" and "professional customer willing to spend $199 to reduce major time costs." It looks like they've decided to focus on their professional customers... I hope that this works out well for them.

As someone who doesn't need $5/month of TextExpander services, this also leaves me in the market for a new solution.

Give Keyboard Maestro [1] by Stairways Software (headed by Peter Lewis, author of Anarchie) a try.

No connection, just a happy user.

[1]: https://www.keyboardmaestro.com/main/

Just to chip in as another very happy user of Keyboard Maestro here - I have been using it for text expansion as well as more general macros and it has made switching to a Mac full time a pleasure. Combined with Alfred it takes 'power user' to another level.

I use it for as much friviolous stuff as serious things (http://i.imgur.com/YgE82eP.png) - having never used TextExpander, I've not had any problems with the text replacements. It's possible to open dialogs and very quickly make UIs too for more involved stuff.

Does Keyboard Maestro support text fields where it prompts you for input before sending the completion? For instance, TextExpander and aText let you write something like:

  :foo expands to
  Dear [name], thank you for buying our stuff. We like you, [name]!
Then, when you type ":foo", it prompts you for "name" and fills out the template with "name" inserted everywhere it's mentioned. This is enormously useful for form letter types of things, or even more esoteric uses like expanding HTML tags ("<[tag]>[content]</[tag]>").

There are a number of ways to do this. Native to Keyboard Maestro are:

Prompt For User Input [1] is the easiest method and allows you to build a form fully within the KM's GUI.

Custom HTML Prompt [2] lets you make a full HTML/CSS/JS form. I have never had need of this, but in principle you can leverage any web browser tools such as jQuery and Bootstrap to make a complex form.

Check out the KM forums for examples. KM also allows you to fully integrate AppleScript and shell scripts, so you could do all sorts of other crazy workflows.

[1] https://wiki.keyboardmaestro.com/action/Prompt_for_User_Inpu...

[2] https://wiki.keyboardmaestro.com/action/Custom_HTML_Prompt

Thanks to you (and everyone else) for the clarification. That's my single biggest need from a TextExpander replacement.

It's not as straightforward as TextExpander or aText, but it's possible to do so in Keyboard Maestro.

The macro: http://imgur.com/1oIhtJm.png

The prompt: https://imgur.com/esJt4gM.png

Keyboard Maestro macros consist of a trigger and an action. In the above example, I used the Typed String trigger to detect when "hhi" is typed then execute an action to create a prompt and paste the text with content from that prompt.

You can use prompts in the macro, save it to a variable and use the variable in the text it pastes/types.

>> As someone who doesn't need $5/month of TextExpander services, this also leaves me in the market for a new solution.

But presumably you can continue to use the pre-SAAS version of the software, right? At least until it stops working because of OS changes, etc.

Yeah... that's how I discovered aText, http://www.trankynam.com/atext, and I've been quite happy with it. It definitely scratches my itches.

Likewise, and it imports TextExpander macros (although you still have to tweak them if you use things like fields).

I have no affiliation with the aText guy except as a happy customer. I've been recommending it to my friends as a migration path off TextExpander because it works for me, but it may not work for you. It has a free time-limited demo, though, so it's easy enough to find out.

> leaves me in the market for a new solution.

Reluctantly, I will be looking too. We use linux at work and I have been using https://github.com/autokey/autokey there, but it is a little abandoned. I have to restart it with a cron job every 10 minutes, but it is fine otherwise.

I've heard good things about PhraseExpander [1]. Disclosure: built by a friend of mine.

[1]: http://www.phraseexpander.com/

I was talking about this on Twitter yesterday, on the whole of it, I agree with TJ's critique -- this was NOT launched well. But I do sympathize with how difficult it is to move a product -- especially a well-loved product -- to a different model.

I use TE dozens of times a day and although I could use an alternative (there is Keyboard Maestro which I also use, but for different stuff, aText and a host of others), I'll just pay the $48 a year or whatever (I think it's $24 for the first year for existing customers) for the solo version. Simply put, I've received enough value from the app over the years to make it worth that to me.

That said, I don't think they have the right pricing. I think $5 a month for single users is too high.I think $10 a month per users for teams is too high too.

But the broader move to a SaaS in this case to me is troubling because my instinctive response is, "Smile is doing this because they have to" -- and that says a lot about the current state of indie software, that a subscription model is the only way forward. I've seen this with other Mac apps I enjoy and in most of those cases, I don't use them enough to make the jump. With TE, I do, so I will. But I do wonder how many will follow.

  Smile is doing this because they have to
100% agree. I feel that a lot of the commentary on this (mine included) has left out the fact that Smile is a classy company owned by a classy bunch of developers that have always done well by the community. They sponsor podcasts, they provide top-notch Mac/iOS apps, and they do excellent customer service. If they've changed their cost structure to $50/yr/customer, it doesn't reflect well on the App Store's monetization model.

>But I do sympathize with how difficult it is to move a product -- especially a well-loved product -- to a different model.

If it's well loved, then why move it to a different model?

Because they haven't been getting very much money any more from all the customers who have it, and love it. They've probably come close to saturating the market for people who would want the capability.

I make very good bank writing software an selling my services. I certainly would not miss this trifling monthly expense. As a business owner I can write it off. I absolutely LOVE TextExpander, it makes my life better.

No way in hell I'm paying $5 per month for it though. If I don't, hard to imagine many who will. What idiots!

Also, now we'll see what Katie and Macsparky are made-of, won't we? I imagine the hitherto well deserved fawning over an excellent, #winning product is going to end PDQ. We'll see.

I expect an expeditious climb-down from whatever the folks at Smile have been perching-on.

And what of PDF Pen? That's also a massively interesting question.

I'm a TextExpander user since 2010. I have been buying "major upgrades" as they came out, without caring much for the features.

I would be very happy to switch to subscription-based pricing. I think we should finally abandon the idea that software can be "purchased" once and used forever. It's unrealistic. Developers need money to fix bugs and adapt the software to new operating systems and environments. Users will not keep the current OS version forever. And yet we still play that silly game where developers have to announce "major features" in order to justify getting some money once every several years.

There are several essential utilities that I'd gladly pay a subscription fee for. I don't want new features, I just want the software to be regularly polished, I want bugs to be fixed and I want it to work with newer OS versions.

That said, I consider $48/year to be too high a price. I'd be willing to pay $20/year for TextExpander. So for now I'm not subscribing, and I'll see what happens. If the price doesn't come down, I'll have to look for other solutions.

> think we should finally abandon the idea that software can be "purchased" once and used forever.

I certainly hope not. If I as a consumer want to use a certain software version locally then I should have that right. Why should I pay for developers to make features that I don't need / want?

> I think we should finally abandon the idea that software can be "purchased" once and used forever.

I've been using Emacs, etc. since the 90s without having to subscribe to them. There is an enormous amount of software, both Free and proprietary, that you can still purchase once and use as long as you care to.

> That said, I consider $48/year to be too high a price. I'd be willing to pay $20/year for TextExpander.

This debacle reminded me that I'd once paid $5 for a license to aText. I dusted it off and found that 1) it's still supported and updated, and 2) it covers 100% of my TextExpander use cases. $48/year is astronomically high when the competition is $5/always.

Well, some people want to make a living writing software. Which is fine. Taking your example: as an Emacs user since roughly 1993 I understand two things: a) nobody makes a living developing Emacs, b) Emacs could use a lot more polish.

You can't make a living selling something once for $5 and never charging people again. It's just not sustainable.

I totally get that, but on the other hand we don't owe them that living. When I negotiate salary, I don't present a would-be employer with a list of bills and a desired profit margin. Instead, I negotiate based on the going rate for the role I'll be filling. Software vendors similarly don't have the privilege of saying "we need $X per year, divided by Y expected licenses, so you guys need to pony up $X/Y+profit."

I agree with exactly what you say except for the price. At $24/year there's just no room to stay in business. Even just one support request would put you in the negative for that customer. Nevermind the server costs, payment processing fees, you're barely leaving anything on the table unless the company can achieve massive economies of scale. Again I agree with everything but price, I just can't see the. Staying in business at a lower price point...

I always liked the Tinderbox pricing scheme. You pay X amount for a year of updates. It's not super cheap. You get your year of updates, and then you coast on the last version you got, until the next time you decide to shell out for a year of updates. If you like the software you can pay every year on the dot, and always be up to date. If you're ambivalent you can pay for one year every five years, and just accept the fact that you're using out-of-date software for four years. Or mix and match. Seems pretty reasonable.


This reminds me of an app called "Spendee", a expense tracker. I bought it in it's previous version and was very happy with it. Then they decided to release an update with a subscription based model (http://www.spendeeapp.com/spendee-pro) instead.

I can still use the free version which is very similar to what I bought before but I think it is ridiculous to note what they give you for $2/month: Multiple wallets, share wallets, syncing and budget planning.

Multiple wallets and budget planning should have been a one-time purchase. Syncing built in. I just don't understand why I should pay a monthly fee for the ability to create multiple wallets.

Then on the other hand there are apps like parcel (https://parcelapp.net) that charge you $2/year for having a tracking server that pushes parcel updates to your phone. I would have been easily ok with spending more on it.

The same thing happened to YNAB(http://www.youneedabudget.com/)

I understand the reasons for moving to a subscription model. It just doesn't sit well with some customers though(that includes me).

Syncing requires backend services which in turn requires an ongoing recurring cost to the developers. Which they must pass on to you or go out of business.

The alternative is to try and cover ongoing costs from new sales. This never ends well. But it does end.

At what level of pricing does a Netflix-style service for indy mac developers work? I would guess the judging who gets the money will be just as fun as streaming music, but I am honestly wondering if we have hit death by a hundred $5 subscriptions. Its a real shame we never got to the frictionless / no-per-transaction fee micropayments.

Eww what a horrible idea, I hope it dies quickly. It will bring in bundling (more eww) and the idea that you need to keep paying $10/month for "$600 a month of value" when all you really need is one or two little utility apps that should have cost a one-time payment of five bucks. From the greedy business side, this sounds like a great deal, but for users, it's a really bad deal, and their choice is diminished to the extent that any software gets swept into this kind of system.

Part of the problem is software developers (I'm one) who feel entitled (I don't) to a lifetime of full income for one project. TextExpander seems a textbook case of what should be a light utility becoming a hungry beast of a business that needs constant feeding, at the cost of its users.

I'm not sure its any worse for the consumers than Netflix itself. I'm also a software developer on the side and looking at the landscape right now, I cannot help but think the App Store concept has failed. I don't think the average user would stick to 1 or 2 utility apps if given a choice of having an App Store worth of content to play with.

> and their choice is diminished to the extent that any software gets swept into this kind of system.

The nice thing about software is that if the app is really so simple that it's only worth a few bucks then someone (or many people) should fill the gap pretty quickly.

I'm surprised by the negative response to this comment, I see some appeal in this notion. What if it was just for trying new apps that could be bought permanently as a separate transaction? Exploring business model variation within app development is the point of this whole dialogue.

I'm a bit puzzled myself given the love of Netflix, but I guess a temporal versus continuous time argument can be made for media versus software. I think it might be the next generation of app bundle, and frankly the iOS App Store has made a lot of software a disposable purchase. I guess its ok or even preferred for TV, movie, and bands but we get testy if someone says its good enough for us.

Very late, but I just got an email from the 1Password gang. They've also adopted a subscription model, with the key difference being that it's 100% optional. The free version still gets you a completely usable product complete with syncing through iCloud, Dropbox, etc.

For about the same annual fee (actually less because 1Password gives you a permanent upgrade discount), I can share Netflix passwords with my kids and bank passwords with my wife. That's tremendously more valuable than the possibility of sharing a email signature snippet with her, and 1Password didn't gut their app to force upgrades on anyone.

Two companies launch subscription plans, for the same price, at the same time. One is universally praised and the other widely trounced. Some b-schooler will be writing a compare-and-contrast case study on this in the very near future.

For a relatively simple service, I'd instinctively be happy paying $5-10 per year.

To ask that per month is going to be difficult.

No mention of Typinator? I switched to it a few years ago because the performance on some version of OS X (don't remember which) was way better than TextExpander's. It does its job, so I've never bothered to try out anything else.

I use Typinator too, for similar reason (had some trouble with TextExpander many versions ago). So far, Typinator's not given me any trouble to justify switching to anything else.

They should consider using maintaince instead of versioned licensing model for TextExpander like PhraseExpress is doing now since Phraseexpress v10. See http://www.phraseexpress.com/maintenance.htm to find out more about the maintenance license PhraseExpress uses.

The author confuses subscription pricing with the increased cost in this essay. If TextExpander 6 had a one-time cost of $60 (3x increase), or a SaaS pricing model of $1/mo (about the same cost), I couldn't tell which of those the author would pay. I can imagine different objections to each.

I think it's a combination of a big price increase and a mandatory SaaS component that brings nothing new to the table.

If they had announced that sustainable development required moving to a subscription model and the price would be $1/month I doubt so many people would be upset.

I think he's trying to focus on the model, not the price. I'm not sure why you think he'd object to a $60 base price or what that has to do with his point.

I agree the gist of the article is about the model. About half of the essay deals with price relative to value, which gets into the actual costs in that model.

"Is TextExpander worth ½ of Office 365?" "I don’t see anything that I really need in TextExpander version 6." "TextExpander makes things a little easier, which was enough to justify the initial price of TextExpander and upgrades, but not a monthly fee."

I think the author would object to a $60 base price based on those comments. Since Smile effectively made two pricing changes at once when they switched to $60/year, it's hard to consider one of them independently.

What does this have to do with his point? He may have been harsher on the subscription model than he intended and other developers with a low-cost, one-time fee model might not understand why. I think the essay illustrates why a company should consider trying hard to make only one pricing change at a time.

The Hit List, a list app for OS X and iOS did this a while ago. I actually stopped using the app for years because of the fee but looking again now, the syncing service has been made free and is included with subscriptions!

Check out Dash. Primarily feature is offline docs searching, but includes text expansion and snippets as a side feature, but does them pretty well.

This caused me to investigate the native text substitution on OS X and I found it that it is actually OK for most basic needs.

Are there any open source text expanders? I guess even a blog on how to build one would be helpful.

It's not really germane to this discussion as it is Windows only, but there is AutoHotKey:


(It does a lot more, but configuring text replacements is straightforward)

Was about to reply that the URL is actually ahkscript.org, but it seems like the current developers finally got a hold of autohotkey.com last year:


To answer the author's question, TextExpander is asking 5$ a month because you're lazy and can afford it, or convenience as they call it.

Why would I pay a monthly fee to expand text snippets when yasnippet[1] exists? It's weird the things people pay for. Why, I've heard some folks buy operating systems for their computers!

[1] https://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/Yasnippet

Not everyone does all their typing in EMACS.

P.S. Have you heard of vim?

It's not really the same product. TextExpander works globally not only within Emacs.

> TextExpander works globally not only within Emacs.

That's why we emacs users like to do all of our typing in a single environment. It really is an OS sometimes!

If you don't find value in a product, don't pay for it.

If you find value in a product and they charge for it, pay for it.

Bitching about how someone shouldn't charge for a service they created is juvenile. I suggest OP a) finds another service which has a price they can agree with or b) build their own since it's so trivial.

They're doing exactly what you recommended by speaking with their wallet and letting others know about the bad business decisions.

There's nothing juvenile about sharing an opinion.

+1 In fact that's probably one of the greatest gift of the net, wide ranging (business) recommendation. Invaluable imho.

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