The Harsh Business Realities of Clarkwood Software Products

by Bob Clark

originally published June 2004; last updated June 2010

Of course, there is the unpleasant matter of the bill.
—Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons
Like most engineering disciplines — indeed, most human endeavors — the economic side of a Clarkwood Software product (consider Peek-a-Boo, Flowing Pennies, or Multisite for iWeb) is an intertwined set of delicate balancing acts. Many developers of many products have grappled with every conceivable detail of pricing, security against piracy, reminder mechanisms, and the logistics of “unlocking” or personalizing a piece of software. All of these issues, which I’ll explore individually later, can be boiled down to a simple bargain:

You deserve the chance to test a Clarkwood Software product fairly.
In return, we’d like the opportunity to earn your business.


Or, The Awkward Realities of Filthy Lucre

I (Bob) like working on Peek-a-Boo and Flowing Pennies. Elden likes working on Multisite for iWeb. We’d do it for free if we could get away with it. Sadly, we members of the human race are only given threescore and ten years, and while that varies from person to person, each day only has 24 hours. When playtime is over and I need to put food on the table, I’m forced to spend precious time doing something that makes money. If I can somehow get playtime to overlap money-making time, I can improve Peek-a-Boo and Flowing Pennies, and Elden can improve Multisite for iWeb, with these two implications:
  1. On a purely selfish note, we get to spend more time doing things we like.
  2. A Clarkwood Software product gets better, faster.

The flip side is that your money is hard-earned too. I don’t want to cheat you out of your money. If you give one of our products a test drive, discover that it’s not for you, and discard it, I’d still like to offer my sincere thanks for giving it a chance; maybe a different Clarkwood Software product will someday work for you.

Buying is Voting


If you visit the “old products” section of our Extras page you can see the products that have stopped being profitable. We worked hard on each of these, and each was at least partly a labor of love. In the end, the number of people buying these products dropped low enough that we had to make a cold, calculating, tough decision to put active development on hold. I’m not asking for sympathy; believe me, each of these products was rewarding in its own way. But finding the balance point for how much time to spend on new development needed a raw, harsh, intricate analysis, and in those cases we ended up concluding (usually reluctantly, and always wistfully) that our time, energy, and sweat were best expended elsewhere.


Whenever I face the hard choice of where to allocate my efforts, if a product’s revenue has been declining, it’s very hard indeed to justify putting more resources into it. This offers a natural feedback loop; that is, if a product’s revenue is trickling away to nothing then by definition there’s not much interest in it, and my efforts are best placed elsewhere. Pragmatically this means that someone buying a product is a de facto vote for me to keep working on it.

Security against piracy

It has been said that locks keep honest people honest. The same can be said about the security most software uses to protect against crackers and software pirates. The fundamental structure of a computer implies that, given enough time and patience, any program that runs can be analyzed. Techniques like encryption and obfuscation can make it harder or more time-consuming, but those in the software development industry generally acknowledge that it’s impossible to make a crack-proof software product.

Each software developer has his or her own preferred balance point between crack resistance and labor. We at Clarkwood Software generally rely on OS X’s built-in utilities such as openssl for our public/private key encryption. This lets us spend more time on the more productive (and more fun!) parts of development — new and improved features! And new and improved products!

Reminder mechanisms

There are probably hundreds or thousands of ways that software products remind you to pay... in fact, let’s dispense with the euphemisms. These products nag you. Peek-a-Boo, Flowing Pennies, and Multisite for iWeb are in this category. Yes, Clarkwood Software products nag you.

Exploring the tension between a gentle reminder and an overly-irritating nag is a sensitive science indeed. Our products will often tune the balance point from release to release. For example, before Peek-a-Boo 2.6, the nagging severity escalated based on when you first opened Peek-a-Boo. So if you opened Peek-a-Boo once, then waited a month or two before you tried it again, the nagging was, to be frank, pretty severe. Peek-a-Boo 2.6 started shifting away from that approach; Peek-a-Boo 2.7.6 (and later) offers a more traditional thirty-day free trial for you to take a “test drive.” (Flowing Pennies and Multisite for iWeb also use a thirty-day free trial period.)

Finding a happy medium is an ongoing journey. If you’ve got thoughts about refining the balance point, drop a note on our feedback page.

Personalizing software

Some software products have a brief serial number to unlock the product, or a secret key combination to mark it as paid for, or a number of other techniques. We’ve explored different solutions; what we’ve found works pretty well is to email a license key to you. This mechanism is used for Peek-a-Boo, Flowing Pennies, and Multisite for iWeb.

When you buy via PayPal, you will receive an email with a subject like “Receipt for your Payment to Clarkwood Software.” This is the confirmation that your payment has been received and accepted. This usually happens within an hour. (A copy of this message is emailed to us at Clarkwood Software, so we are notified simultaneously.)

The next step is that we at Clarkwood Software send you your license information. As soon as we receive notification, we will send you a second email with a subject of, say, “Peek-a-Boo License Key.” We have a system that typically automates this within minutes, but if we experience a glitch we need to process it manually, so it may take up to two business days.

When you receive your “License Key” message, it will contain a “blob” of strange-looking characters. The email will look something like this:

Copy this entire blob, then open your Clarkwood Software application; it will detect a valid license “blob” and personalize itself.

We strongly recommend that you save both the “Receipt for your Payment to Clarkwood Software” message from PayPal and the “License Key” message from Clarkwood Software, in case you need to re-install and re-personalize the software.

Some email servers are very strict in their spam-prevention policies, and we’ve heard reports that legitimate email can be rejected from too-strict servers. Please ensure that your email will accept messages (“whitelist”) from (for the “License Key” message). Email is how we prefer to communicate, so it’s very important for it to work!