Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Death of .NET Reflector?

A few weeks ago, the software company Red Gate made the announcement that they will soon be ending the free availability of .NET Reflector. A summary of that can be found here. As you can imagine, many developers were unhappy at this decision. There were numerous calls of “traitors” and “liars” targeted towards the company, whom many thought had made a promise never to charge for .NET Reflector for editions other then the “Pro”. It is still in debate as to whether they actually did promise that, but’s that another story.

Not surprisingly, a few people have taken advantage of this situation. For example, a new tool named ILSpy has made an appearance. This is an open source project which is very early days, but could provide enough functionality for those looking for a lighter .NET assembly browser and decompiler – but most importantly, it’s free. By far the most heavy-weight competitor is Jetbrains who this evening gave details about their own .NET browser and decompiler. Their announcement can be found here. Their strategy is to include powerful .NET browsing and decompiling via their Resharper tool (version 6, which is currently in beta). Though the company have mentioned they intend to release a stand alone .NET assembly browser application in the future, which will be free. And they do mean “free”.

This leaves us with the question of just how are Red Gate going to get people to pay for .NET Reflector? What features could they implement which will make people think - “actually, I’m willing to pay £xx for that bit of functionality”. That’s a very good question. One cool feature in the Pro edition is the Visual Studio integration, where you can use .NET Reflector’s Visual Studio addin to debug compiled .NET framework assembly’s in the VS IDE. So if you wanted to know how String.IsNullOrEmpty worked, then you could step into that actual source code for that method. This is very cool, but as many will have spotted, the ability to debug .NET framework assemblies has been around for a few years now and is not difficult to setup, and is free.

I think .NET Reflector’s future is in trouble. To be fair, Red Gate’s reason to start charging is due to the resources required in order to maintain and build .NET Reflector. Anyone can understand that a company can’t just have a money-loosing product in their portfolio which offset by the profits made by other products. In the long term that does not make much sense. However, surely Red Gate is big enough to actually pull off that model? Else, why on earth would they want .NET Reflector in the first place? They knew it was free, they knew how much of a following it had. They knew how pissed off developers would be if they started charging for .NET Reflector. So why did they buy the rights to it….?