Who me ? Time bombs and shareware feature in today’s edition of Who, Me? while a boss’ big expensive vehicle leaves a coder out of his pocket.
We start the week with a story from a renowned reader like “Frank”, and a confession about his second job following a disastrous first foray into the computer world.
Frank and a freelance friend worked for a small company that sold mobile data collection equipment. The company liked to punch above its weight. “On the phone, we had to act like we were at least 20 people,” he told us.
It was a pain because every ring of the phone meant a break in coding.
Even though it was boring, it wasn’t as boring as the boss’ financial approach.
“I had to write a demo program to show the usefulness of these mobile data units,” he said. “Basically collecting the data and displaying it on a PC.”
It was in the late 1980s, the demo was coded in Turbo Pascal. However, reading and writing to the device had to be done via the RS232 interface, which the out-of-the-box Turbo Pascal of that time was not entirely suitable for (at least not in the way that Frank needed).
Shareware to the rescue
The shareware in question was distributed via a floppy disk. It consisted of an assembly routine accessed by Frank’s Turbo Pascal code and did pretty much exactly what was required. The catch was the payment requirement if the code was to be used for commercial purposes.
This was a one-time fee of £10 ($13.60).
Frank saw no problem. His boss, who had just taken delivery of an expensive new car and couldn’t sell his old one, did. The pennies had to be pinched.
So there was no money to lose, Frank said.
The opinion of his boss: “It already works, why pay?”
A familiar refrain to too many open-source authors today.
Frank was an honest guy and confessed the situation to the shareware author. The author was understanding.
“He said OK. I should limit the lifetime of the software that uses his routine to one year and that would be OK for him.”
That’s exactly what Frank did. After a year, his app stopped working. To be absolutely sure to stay compliant, he also made sure that his app would delete itself and remove all of its source code.
Time is up. The boss’s old car sat unsold, and as another money-saving exercise it was suggested that maybe Frank would like to switch from permanent employee to freelancer? Taxes would be saved… but Frank refused.
And so, with only three months on the clock, he was unceremoniously fired.
And there, the story could have ended. His former boss tried the same thing with Frank’s co-worker, but seriously faltered when the tax office demanded five years in arrears (“That’s how long my old co-worker worked there “, said Frank).
But for Frank, it was towards new pastures. Even when the boss called a year later: the company was bigger now, and maybe Frank would like to come back?
“He also said that the program I wrote really was a great demo at CeBit and they liked it very much,” Frank recalled.
“Just that after two days of living it mysteriously disappeared from disk and its backup didn’t work either.”
“And they had to stop the demo.”
Did Frank act right or wrong? Software that stops working after a trial period is, after all, the way of things.
But was the scorched earth policy overdone and a bit ethically questionable? Speak out in the comments and send us your confession in an email to Who, Me? ®