The Shareware Review People Interviews
Jim "Button" Knopf,
"Father of Shareware"

Question: Jim could you tell our visitors a little about yourself?

Answer: My name is Jim Knopf. Computer geeks are more likely to recognize me by my marketing name: Jim Button. (Knopf means "button" in German.) I’m sometimes called the "Father of Shareware" because in 1983 I pioneered the shareware method of software distribution with the late Andrew Fluegelman. My software company was called "ButtonWare, Inc."

I grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, got my BA degree in Sociology from Brigham Young University, and did post graduate studies at the University of Washington.


Question: How did you get started programming?

Answer: IBM taught me everything I needed to know. I worked there for 18 years. I have written computer programs in over 20 computer languages.


Question: How many hours a week do you work at writing shareware?

Answer: None, now. But before I retired I spent a minimum of 40 hours per week at programming…. In addition to running my software company.


Question: How many programs are you currently working with?

Answer: I’m not working on any at present. I have socked away several ideas to work on in my spare time after winter arrives again.


Question: What percentage of your time is spent on the different aspects of Shareware?

Answer: My only shareware activity at present is toying with my "Father of Shareware" web page. I spend around two hours per day working on the page.


Question: Do you mind users getting in touch with you about your products?

Answer: I definitely do not mind. I always felt that the strength of shareware marketing lied with the close contact that the authors have with the users. Most of my good ideas came from my users.


Question: Do you feel the users of shareware are supporting the shareware concept as it was originally intended?

Answer: Yes. If an author feels unrewarded for his work, it’s most likely his own fault, not the users’.


Question: Do you see any relationship from downloads to sales? Is it predictable?

Answer: Wider distribution is one of the cornerstones of sales. It’s predictable: no distribution, no sales. All other factors being equal, if you can double your distribution you will double your sales.


Question: Do you believe being a shareware programmer will make you rich someday?

Answer: Well, it already has. My shareware program PC-File netted many millions of dollars in sales. If I had spent the money more wisely in my business, I would be a gazillionaire today. But as it is, I’m merely comfortably retired.


Question: What do you see for the future of shareware?

Answer: I’m sorry, but I’m not a visionary man. I never saw the future, but I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time with the right ideas and a proper amount of energy.


Question: If someone were interested in writing a new program, what advice would you give them?

Answer: Pick something that hasn’t been done very much before, and do it better than anyone ever has.


Question: How would you explain to that person the costs involved in marketing a shareware program?

Answer: I would emphasize that the largest cost is in terms of personal time and involvement.


Question: What do you see as the pitfalls of programming and marketing of shareware?

Answer: You might end up spending a lot of time and effort with no results. Some people become disillusioned when this happens. It’s like most things in life - there are no guarantees.


Question: Do you get a lot of people sending in ideas as to how to improve on your program(s)?


Answer: Yes, a lot. I always said that PC-File was more than 90 percent the result of ideas from the users. I personally ran out of ideas for improvements after about the first year. After that, I have to credit the users for the features that were implemented. Before the term "Shareware" became common, I used to call it "User Supported Software" largely because of this component of user design input.


Question: Do you get many complaints from users?

Answer: Not very many. It’s a good thing, because one nasty complaint can ruin my whole week.


Question: Do you feel that interviews of this type will be helpful to authors and users, alike?

Answer: I hope so.


Question: How do you feel about software pirates, from the authors point of view?

Answer: As an author, I always felt that pirates were an ally. If a person isn’t going to pay for the program, the next best thing he/she can do is pass it along to others.


Question: Please tell us a little bit about the software you write, and why you chose this type of software:

Answer: I prefer to write shareware programs that are business oriented productivity tools. I like the thought that people are become more productive as a result of my work. And secondly, I believe that this category of programs is better supported by the people who pay.


Question: Is there anything at all you would like our viewers to know?

Answer: I would like to thank my user community for all the support and encouragement they have given me over the years. The feedback and positive reinforcement is extremely rewarding.



Question: What advice would you give to other shareware Authors? And, why?

Answer: I always advise authors that users will only voluntarily pay for shareware if they LIKE the author. If they don’t like you for some reason, you are sunk at the start. Therefore, don’t get off on the wrong foot with your users with things like crippled programs, time limited programs, and other negative incentives to register your software. If you can’t trust your users to pay for truly good software, then you should stay out of the shareware business. Also, too many authors expect instant success. A shareware programs takes at least a year to generate enough response for you to know if it’s going to be a success. Don’t become too quickly discouraged.


Question: What advice would you give to the users of Shareware? And, why?

Answer: If you like the author and the program is a good one which you will use, reasonably priced, by all means pay for it! This is the only way to keep shareware distribution alive. If you don’t intend to pay for it, then please do the following:

  1. Write to the author and explain why you are not sending in a payment. This feedback may help him in his future actions. Was it too high priced? Was it too poorly done? Too many bugs? Not useful to you? Any of these responses will be helpful.
  2. Delete the program in its entirety from your system. You will like yourself more because of your honesty and integrity.


Thank you very much for participating in our Interviews!

Martha Seward
SharewareJunkie, Reviews & Interviews
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