On trial versions of software

This is an aside to another post that I’m working on, but it’s gotten long enough that I’m just going to put it out there while I continue writing about the main topic.

I’ve been working on learning several new pieces of software. I’ve had to figure out how to do new things with Adobe Acrobat 9, and I am actively (if slowly) learning DevonThink and experimenting with MarsEdit. My list for the future includes improving my HTML knowledge in what we jokingly call my spare time. And so on.

I truly appreciate software trials that are based on a certain number of hours (or noncontiguous days) of usage, rather than a calendar-limited span. My time is so divided between various responsibilities that months can go by between when I download and install a program, when I open it for the first time, and when I start figuring out how to use it.

With a generous but limited number of hours of access to the fully functioning program, I can spread my learning over the long time it takes me to thoroughly evaluate.

The “fully functioning” aspect is important. If I can only input six records, I can play around but I can’t tell whether the system will work for me. Same goes for printing. I don’t care if there’s a watermark across every printout that says “TRIAL VERSION,” but I do need to print.

If I have an allotment of time that I can use in convenient increments and complete access to the program, I can put the program (and myself) through enough paces to do a real evaluation. I can either find out that it won’t work for me or get so hooked on it that the licensing fee seems trivial.


Scrivener was the first program I evaluated on this model.

“Download Scrivener and try it for yourself. The trial runs for 30 days of actual use: if you use it every day it lasts 30 days; if you use it only two days a week, it lasts fifteen weeks. Once the trial expires, you can export all of your work or buy a licence to continue using Scrivener.”

Well into, but not at the end of, the test period, I happily purchased my license. I began recommending it to everyone I come across who writes, plans courses, or otherwise needs to organize a lot of material. Later I bought my daughter a copy that she used to write her master’s thesis. I upgrade without hesitation, and I can’t imagine living without it. (Although Scrivener was Mac-only for a long time, there is now a PC version in beta.)

All software should be so good that it’s a joy to pay the developer for the privilege of using it.

Scrivener was pretty easy to move into. I was running with it almost immediately, although it still has a lot of functions I’m not using yet. Ramping up my skills with that program is also on my to-do list.


With a heavy-duty program with a forbidding threshold, it takes time to figure out first how to make it work and then whether it will earn its keep by handling tasks that need to get done by this person working in this environment.

That’s where I am with DevonThink. It’s really powerful. I think I’m going to love it. I’m not there yet, even though I am working (as time permits) with both the program’s own help system and with Take Control of Getting Started with DevonThink 2, by Joe Kissell. I’m still, thankfully, in the trial period, after several months: most of my time is spent reading about the program, dipping into it to look at something, then going back to thinking about how it will fit my needs. I’m throwing URLs into an inbox. I haven’t begun sorting them yet, nor have I imported my PDF collection. Thank heaven, I have

“150 hours of non-continuous runtime free trial, 200 email messages and 20 OCR runs per day.”

If I’d already paid for the program, I’d be trying to learn all its aspects while feeling guilty for having spent the money on something I wasn’t able to put to use immediately, and while feeling anxiously compelled to master the program faster than current reality permits. As a result, I might end up writing it off as a bad decision on my part, shelving it (with a tinge of lasting resentment), and shifting my time investment to a search for an easier solution. That’s bad all around.

As it is, if I find the program as invaluable as I think it will prove, I may purchase the most extended version of the program, possibly bundled with DevonAgent and maybe also a fast scanner model that is well integrated to facilitate a (near-) paperless office, which is something I need to work toward, since fiber has taken over every spare inch (and then some). I wouldn’t ever consider this much investment without a thorough trial.

Thanks to the extended and functionally unlimited trial, I’ll be completely comfortable with my final decision (whatever it is) and I’ll turn into a vocal advocate of (i.e., part of the marketing effort for) the software.

Generous and flexible software trial periods: very, very smart policies for everyone involved.


Post written with a trial version of MarsEdit. I have other offline blog composition software that hasn’t quite worked for me, and I had to buy it to find that out. MarsEdit is being very promising so far.


2 thoughts on “On trial versions of software”

  1. I am still happily stumbling along with my Adobe Photoshop 5.5 :-}
    I am in a similar position re chart and schematic creating software, however. I am holding out for a program that can help me create both knitting AND crochet charts.
    For schematics I am playing around with inkscape just to learn more about CAD before deciding if I want the tech or if old-school (pen and paper with french curve, compass and ruler) might be all I need.

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