Where do you buy your .NET Components and other Programming Tools?

Disclaimer: I run a company (Xtras.Net) that sells .NET components and other programming tools so this topic significantly affects my own livelihood as well as that of my company.

Over the past 10 years, since we launched our first printed VBxtras catalog, the state of Windows-based programming has changed.  In those days most Windows programmers wrote smaller departmental apps using VB3.  Today, Windows-based programming as is often server programming as not, and it is usually mission critical for larger enterprises using .NET. 

I think Windows programmers have also changed. Programmers used to have an almost naive can-do evangelistic attitude but didn’t often think about the maintenance of their app a decade later.  Today programming is business, and business brings all seriousness with it.  Yes I am painting with a broad brush, but this isn’t the point of the essay so I hope you can let that go.

With the change I believe programmers have come to view components and tools differently too.  Previously they were "cool toys"; things they could use to build even cooler apps.  Today components and tools are about saving man hours and reducing time-to-market.  Yesterday’s components and tools cost $50-$500, today’s cost $200-$2000 or more.  Again, a broad brush I know.

With this change has come a change in sourcing behavior too.  Used to be the programmer called up a cataloguer like VBxtras that had all the components and tools to help him select, he used his credit card to order, and had the product shipped to arrive within a day or two.

Today, it seems .NET developers do one of two things.  Either they start by Googling for something like ".NET SMTP Component", download the demo of the first one they find, and if it meets minimum requirements, they buy it direct from the vendor at full price.  The other approach is they do serious research into several competing products like PDF engines or what one of our main vendors calls a "presentation layer toolset" by speaking to each of the vendors for those products, and then they either buy directly from the vendor or simply pass on to purchasing.  "Purchasing" then simply goes with their corporate reseller such as Software Spectrum and doesn’t or even won’t consider going to a specialist in .NET Components and Tools.

So it seems to me sourcing of .NET components and other tools comes down to the following options:

  1. Buy direct from the vendor at full price
  2. Buy from a corporate reseller like Software Spectrum at whatever price
  3. Buy from specialty reseller like Xtras.Net at a discount price

In corporations saving a few dollars doesn’t seem important, so the upshot I have seen is fewer .NET components and tools and being purchased from specialty resellers like Xtras.Net, even if the developer first learned about the product at the specialty reseller’s website. If this sounds like sour grapes, well I unfortunately guess it is.  I tried to write this essay so it did’nt sound that way, but I think I failed.  But the rest of this essay should instead give you good food for thought why it makes sense to purchase from a specialty reseller like Xtras.Net.

Often I hear developers believe they will get better support if they buy direct from a vendor. Whenever I mention that to one of my vendors we have a very good laugh (my laugh being the sad one.)  Most vendors couldn’t keep track where someone purchased if they wanted to! Those that can track know it is bad business to be hostile to customers because they purchased from a convenient source.  So please know that buying from a reseller does not harm your prospects for support.  And if you know for a fact that a specific vendor will give you poor support if you buy from a reseller that vendor will certainly be hostile to you in other ways too, so seriously consider buying from a vendor that is not hostile towards segments of its own customers.

To introduce the next topic, I’m sure you realize using a 3rd party component is not something you should do without consideration.  Apps tend to have a long life, and you should consider maintainance 5 and 10 years from now.  Access to source code certainly helps, but knowing a component vendor will continue support is even better.  And what about royalty fees?  When you buy direct from a vendor, they will not go out of their way to show you their warts. But the job of a specialty reseller like Xtras.Net is to provide you with as much information as possible about each and every component so that you can make an informed decision. When you buy direct, you remove the funding specialty resellers need to do the research to help you make your best choice.

Another thing is developers often don’t give any thought to where their products are sourced.  They send a P.O. to purchasing and let purchasing decide.  Of course corporate purchasing usually doesn’t consider specialty resellers unless the developer almost demands they buy there (ironically, the specialty reseller is often the one with the lowest price.) And corporate resellers that purchasing so often uses don’t even know the first thing about .NET components and other programming tools.

So where is all this leading?  To this: I’m asking that next time you decide to purchase a .NET component or other programming tool you consider buying from a specialty reseller like Xtras.Net instead of direct, or that you do what you can to get your purchasing department to consider using the specialty reseller.

What’s in it for you?  Well, it is my goal to build Xtras.Net and related websites out to provide you with a tremendous resource for comparing and contrasting 3rd party .NET components and other tools; well beyond anything that is currently on the Internet in our space.  I also plan initiatives that will lower the average price of .NET components and plan others that will significantly reduce the problems associated with 3rd party components today as well as increase the reliability of using them. 

Every week we meet to plan and every week we have to decide where to put out resources. Since I don’t have venture capital nor do I have public money, I have to operate in a cash flow positive.  If sales are low for the month, we have to take our resources away from building out our infrastructure to provide these benefits of which I mention and put them into getting up sales in the short term.  I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when we realize that we have to stop working on these projects and instead have to put our resources toward yet another promotion.

But I need your help. 

When you are about to buy a 3rd party .NET component or other programming tool, please consider buying from Xtras.Net and/or please ask your purchasing agent to consider buying from Xtras.Net.  If enough of you do over the next year or two, I can promise that you will be very glad you did.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.

4 Replies to “Where do you buy your .NET Components and other Programming Tools?”

  1. One of the main things that influences (or sparks off) my buying decisions is reading ‘the Daily Grind’ from larkware.com.

    this provides a quick look at just about everything as it comes out, and when you combine it with reading mike (gunderloy)’s book "coder to developer", the tools get such a full coverage (and such ‘mind-share’, i.e. ‘you think about them so much’) that you become very likely to think about trying them out/eventually buying them.

    this is achieved not by focusing on the tools — but by focusing on the development process itself. It answers the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question up front — not as something later on.

    i think that your essay above, though well written, makes a mistake in this regard. Though you answer the question ‘What’s in it for me?’ you do that well into the article, and not convincingly at all.

    Your honesty is very admirable though Mike, and your commitment to the blogging community is excellent. You’ve definitely got my attention!


  2. Leon:

    Thanks for the comment. Funny you mention Mike Gunderloy; his Developer Central email newsletter published by Application Development Trends is, in my opinion, by far the best developer email newsletter out there today. It’s so good, I am even considering paying to advertise in it! :)

    As for your constructive criticism, I certainly accept and acknowledge your points. I wish I was able to provide more specifics, but I really can’t do so yet for competitive reasons. Some of the things we plan could be spoiled by one of our main competitors if they knew the details of the plan. But that’s one of the problems with blogging; everyone can see it!

    How about this. Minimally, customers who purchase from Xtras.Net get to apply 10% of the value of their purchases toward XDN Professional memberships (www.xtras.net/xdn), normally $99/year (next month we’ll raise to $149/year.) XDN is a *great* value. But don’t take my word for it, take his: http://sqljunkies.com/WebLog/donkiely/archive/2004/05/14/2487.aspx Beyond XDN Pro, we’ve got a lot more positive up our sleeves although more specifics will have to wait.

    You mention honesty; yes, that is my style. It is just a lot easier to be honest than make up a lot of spin. And as for real honesty, the reality is I like the business I run but lately it has been very difficult. We have well financed competitors, and lots of developers just Google these days for information about tools and don’t think to check us out. And Google seems determined not to give us links these days unless we pay for advertising (which is too costly for us to do in any kind of volume.)

    So I am hoping by getting people to know me and my company better via the blog they’ll think about us more often when purchasing. If they do, then I can focus a lot more on building things of value for the .NET development community as opposed to just trying to get payroll paid. I’d love far more to blog about cool development techniques, to be honest, but those don’t currently cover overhead, which I have to cover first.

    So I greatly appreciate your post, and hope that I will be able to offer a lot more value to the .NET community in the future, via blog and otherwise. Ideally you’ll look back in a few years and say "Dog gone, he was right!" :)

  3. Your article illustrated that there isn’t a downside to ordering from Xtras.net

    However, you didn’t give a compelling reason TO order from you.

    I’d stress the FEEDBACK section (reviews). That’s a huge benefit to the developer AND might get you some hits on a google search.

    BTW, you might have a LOT more luck using something like Web Position Gold to help you create pages that rank highly for the products you’re selling. Probably much more effective than google Adwords and (in the end) cheaper, if it’s a popular search term ("VB HTML control", etc.)

  4. Clay:

    >> However, you didn’t give a compelling reason TO order from you.

    Thanks for your comments. Your point is well taken. Actually, that post is here: http://www.mikeschinkel.com/blog/PermaLink,guid,fd4dd0b8-2b6d-48aa-875c-1875d7a7e7cc.aspx

    I actually wrote this post not really to be read on its own, but because I planned to reference it in a future post I have yet to write. I didn’t want that post to digress into all of this, but I felt I needed it if someone wanted the background.

    >> I’d stress the FEEDBACK section (reviews). That’s a huge benefit to the developer AND might get you some hits on a google search.

    Thanks. We are trying to get people to give us more feedback, but it is going slowly. Any suggestions? Have you posted any reviews? :) (I don’t mean to attack, I’m just actually asking if you wouldn’t mind?)

    Actually, we do have a pretty significant initiative to get lots more reviews, but we just haven’t gotten everything ready to launch it yet. Soon, very soon.

    >> BTW, … Web Position Gold … google Adwords and (in the end) cheaper, if it’s a popular search term ("VB HTML control", etc.)

    Funny you should mention. We are putting a lot of effort towards Google right now. :)

    Thanks again for your comment. They were very positive and helpful!

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