Did I Sell Out?

Every now and then I’ll receive a comment like this one from someone claiming that I “sold out” when I was acquired by NewsGator.

On the one hand, I’m a little flattered by these comments, because they mean that someone relies on my software enough to get pissed off at me. And I try not to take them too seriously, since accusations of “selling out” happen all over the place – for example, every time a rock band changes direction, they’re accused of selling out, regardless of whether that change was for artistic or purely financial reasons.

But it’s hard not to be insulted, and it’s especially stinging when someone suggests that I have “zero attachment” to my software. I’m personally attached to every application I’ve created – I sweated over each one for a long time, and feel personally responsible for every bug, missing feature, and usability problem in them. And to think that my reason for being acquired was just to make money ignores the fact that I was doing just fine financially by selling two fairly popular applications as a one-man show.

Of course, I can understand why TopStyle customers would think I sold out. After all, TopStyle has stagnated since I was acquired by NewsGator. My hope is that making TopStyle 3.5 – which includes some fairly significant new features – a free upgrade will serve in some small part as an apology for taking so long between releases.

Given that I’m a somewhat-independent developer, my reputation means everything to me, and my name would be tarnished – perhaps forever – if I really did sell out at the expense of my software and its customers. Are these accusations of my selling out limited to a few disgruntled customers, or do a lot of people believe that I sold out?

I’d honestly like to know, so please feel free to comment here.

41 thoughts on “Did I Sell Out?

  1. I wouldn’t say you sold out. You wanted to take FeedDemon to the next level which is something you couldn’t do on your own or at least not easily. I understand why you did what you did with NewsGator. At first I didn’t really think it was a good thing but that is more to do with the fact that I have no need for feed synchronization and I saw myself being forced into using NewsGator when I didn’t want to. This is why I have not renewed my NewsGator subscription. All I want is FeedDemon.
    I have never used TopStyle however I can see why people who use it might be a little annoyed by the lesser attention it has had over FeedDemon. I am still a little unsure as to why NewsGator kept this application, it appears that it would have been better to sell TopStyle to a more web development oriented company or perhaps make it open source and focus your attention on where the company is focused.
    At the end of the day though it is a personal choice that you made for your own reasons. To be honest I would not begrudge you if it was just for money. You work damn hard and you have a family to look after. You can’t please everyone with your decisions, you just need to be sure in yourself that you made the right one. Nobody else can judge that but yourself. If you are still happy about selling to NewsGator that is all that matters. Customers will come and go, you can’t let yourself worry about the few who call you a sell out.
    One thing I would like to ad though is that I think it is fantastic how open you are about all these things. You are a very genuine and decent person. Not many developers would take the time to ask such questions as you have done on this blog over the years. I don’t think anyone can seriously call you a sell out in all honesty. They just disagree with your decision to sell. The two are very different but people confuse them.

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  2. This is a tricky question, as at the end of the day, the only one who will really know whether you sold out is you. The problem is exactly as you put it, you were acquired by NewsGator and TopStyle suffered. Perhaps not as a result, but from the perspective of customers, they appear related.
    As you mentioned, people scream “sell out” at the drop of a hat. I was told that I “must be in the pocket of Adobe” because I posted 3 how to articles about Dreamweaver over 3 weeks (and 6 articles on completely unrelated topics in that same time frame). I’m still slightly offended by that comment, as it implies that they don’t think I’m ethical. And that’s the problem with the sell out comment – your customer has as good as stated that s/he doesn’t think you’re ethical. And that’s rude. It’s hard not to react poorly to an accusation like that, especially if you know that it’s completely unfounded.
    Personally, I think the fact that you’re willing to address this publicly and are actively soliciting our opinions tells me that you’re not a sell out. At most, you and the TopStyle customers are a victim of the different priorities of your new management.
    But keep talking to us, and we won’t think you’re selling out.

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  3. I don’t think you sold out at all. FeedDemon has only gotten better since the sale to NewsGator and the integration with NewsGator is excellent.

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  4. As a longtime user of both Topstyle and FeedDemon (and before that, HomeSite) I wouldn’t go so far as to say you’ve sold out. However, I’ve yet to see much benefit to me, the user, of your partnership with Newsgator. Before you went with Newsgator, both Topstyle and Feeddemon were well-supported and fairly oft-updated. Since Newsgator, Topstyle has stagnated and many of the updates to Feeddemon have been tie-ins to the Newsgator online service which, frankly, I have little use for or interest in. If I wanted a web-based newsreader I’d use Google Reader …
    As to accussations of selling-out, I think the sad fate of HomeSite at the hands of Allaire and especially Macromedia looms lage in people’s consciousness. We don’t want the same thing to happen to Topstyle.
    Full UTF-8 support for TopStyle by, say, Christmas would go a long way to smooth any ill will from me! ;-)

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  5. I believe you did not sell out, and I believe you were attached to TS.
    Buy I would have preferred if you did sellout, and then we would have known where we stood. Best thing about TS was the developer’s attention to his users, worst thing to happen TS was the silent treatment.
    Just to end on a more upbeat note… Im really happy to hear it is alive again, cos I love TS. It’s sentimental only though, I’ve had to move on a long time ago.

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  6. Hmmm — I don’t think its a tricky question.
    I bridle at the suggestion that you “sold out” because you sold your company / products. Life and business are more complex than this simple view.
    What if you had taken a job somewhere and decided you couldn’t continue working on TopStyle? Would you have “sold out” then? What if you had simply decided to stop supporting enhancing it? Would this make you a different kind of bad person?
    I assume you never promised the buyers of TopStyle (or FeedDemon for that matter) that you would support and enhance the product indefinitely.
    So what does selling to NewsGator have to do with that?

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  7. You sold your business to another party, so in that sense you did “sell out.” As you eluded to in this post, you could have continued on the path you were going in and continued to do well. My guess is, for various reasons, you decided that selling to Newsgator would help grow your user base, make it easier to add many of the features people were requesting, and allow you to be compensated for your work, which isn’t a bad thing. Even if you didn’t “sell out,” it’s likely that TopStyle would have languished anyway. The fact is, FeedDemon is probably a more popular application, and feed reading has progressed and changed at a faster rate than editing CSS documents.
    All that being said, I don’t think you’ve abandoned your user base at all. If anything the sell has probably helped FeedDemon progress faster than it would have otherwise. I was a fan before the buyout, and I’m still a fan of FeedDemon.

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  8. Nick,
    I’ve used FeedDemon since before the NewsGator acquisition and found it to be a tremendously useful tool. I’m busy, and FeedDemon allows me to process a lot of information in a way that suits me. Personally I didn’t appreciate the change to a large corporation selling a service to me from a software application that I install on my PC and use as I see fit. I still have never used anything but your stand alone app.
    As an IT professional I fully understand your reasons for moving in with NewsGator, as a user I must confess I feel a little bit stranded – I don’t wish to be pushed into paying a subscription when all I want is an application.
    Of course, it is the quality of your product that has kept so many users with you through the move, and ultimately that is what I appreciate.
    Thanks,
    Peter Holloway

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  9. In my opinion you sell out when you develop a product, build a following, sell to another company and then disappear. I still follow this blog to find out what is happening with FeedDemon. I still see your comments on the forums when it comes to features, support, beta’s etc. I don’t see a sell out here at all. I have seen some sell outs in recent years, and FeedDemon is certainly not one.

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  10. The biggest potential issue with your merger/sale/acquisition with/to/by NewsGator will be that NewsGator could tank due to VC money and some other company (Microsoft/Google/Yahoo!) scooping the market out from underneath NewsGator. That being said I certainly hope that is not the case!
    I was a bit confused when you sold to NewsGator because I didn’t know them but I trusted your judgment. I still use TopStyle regularly and I recommend FeedDemon to people often. If you create a new piece of software and it looks remotely usable I’ll at least try the trial because I trust your design sensibility, your attention to detail, and your family oriented conscience.
    Did you sell out? Sure. You sold your company to another. Did you do it for money? Yes. You sold out, but rather than it being some high-browed judgment I say kudos! You’re not doing so at the expense of your users and I know that you did it, as others have mentioned, to broaden the usefulness of your software. NewsGator has attempted to build a suite of software that allows them to be a one-stop Feed solution.
    Whatever sleep you may be losing over this question (and I doubt you really are) let it pass. Worst case scenario you get to go back to what you were doing as an ISV and we all go back to ‘the way things used to be.’ Best case scenario we all get to build our knowledge of things through RSS readers that are well designed or building web documents with an IDE that is brilliantly put together.
    You still owe me the chance to take you out to lunch when you’re in Denver some time :) Shoot me an email and we’ll pencil something in.

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  11. Absolutely not, Nick. I was always amazed at what you were achieving as a one man band. Since you joined NewsGator, FeedDemon has gone from strength to strength and your personal involvement is still very clear. (I remember requesting a feature on the forums once, you replied within a day, and it was in the next release!) However, I’ve also received prompt and helpful feedback from other folks at NG, which I see as a very clear benefit of your move. Seems to me like the best of both worlds.
    TopStyle is still a fabulous piece of software too, and more than meets my needs. Does anyone think, with the enormous amount of effort that’s been going into FeedDemon, that you’d have been rattling out new versions of TS too if only you were on your own??
    Plus – most important point for me – you’ve got a family and a life to be getting on with too. If joining NG provides a more stable basis for you all then good for you, mate.
    To quote Bill Hicks, “This ain’t Dylan Goes Electric”. People need to get some perspective. :)
    Keep up the good work, Nick.
    Mark

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  12. Of course you sold out, but that’s not the bad thing some people think it is. My belief is sell out EARLY and sell out BIG. Case in point: Moby. His music is used in so many adverts I can’t even believe it, and yet people still love his stuff.
    The question that should be asked is: have you mistreated your products or your customers? The answer to that is a resounding Hells, No. Sure, TopStyle has stagnated a little, but it’s not the kind of product that needs a massive quantity of new features every six months. It works, it works well, and it’s stable. I will admit that I was a little worried when you sold to NewsGator because they weren’t a CSS Editing company, and that wasn’t a product they’d be interested in pushing, but the net result hasn’t been bad.
    As a heavy user of both TopStyle and FeedDemon, I don’t feel mistreated at all.

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  13. I don’t think you sold out; I think you had the best interests of your software and customers at heart. Personally I was incredibly frustrated at the lack of communication over TopStyle’s future, given that it is a tool I love. That wall of silence really set the seed for some bad feelings towards NG. You’ve got it spot on regarding people getting pissed off: you’ve got some really passionate users which creates a great sense of community and involvement, and can help drive development forward, but those same users get *really* pissed if something seems to be jeopardizing the software they love so much.
    Bottom line is, you didn’t sell out, but I do think NG’s general handling of TopStyle has been a bit insensitive (to customers) and clumsy, which doesn’t reflect brilliantly on you; but I think that, ultimately, true fans of your work will remain fans. :)

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  14. It just seems to me that you simply directed your attention away from developers. The more sensitive among us throw insults, the rest of us just hide our hurt.

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  15. Some time ago, I post a comment in your blog, pointing some problems with FeedDemon and
    a) you point me to the support forums
    b) I was accused of not “respecting you” for not using the forums.
    I think that you will be more sympathetic with your customers if you were only Bradbury Soft.
    And look at the red sign before posting a comment…

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  16. From my point of view I’d like to see you retaining some stewardship over products you’ve created.
    It means crafting a different sort of agreement, but it would work for the users.
    Take a look at Homesite. I still love that program. I use TopStyle but it does not replace Homesite. Along the way MacroMedia and now Adobe are managed by people who it seems would prefer to see the product die. (Maybe that’s wrong, maybe their world view just doesn’t include the product.) Now if you had some deal that said,” you do an unreasonably small amount of work on the product, try to kill it… ownership then changes…” we might have a vibrant HomeSite.
    (I suspect that if you had taken the MS pill when it was offered the impact of the HomeSite ideas would have spread wider by now.)
    You’re now working on TS. This is great. It’s a good sign for how NewsGator works.
    You decide what you do with your life. (So listen to this only as far as it gels with your beliefs.)

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  17. Nah, I think you sold out when you were acquired by Allaire. :)
    I’m just kidding. Making great software is hard work and one of the steps to success is finding an infrastructure to support you as you grow, whether that means joining a company or starting one.
    I think those who accuse you of “selling out” are imagining a fantasy version of being an independent developer where you spend 10 minutes a day coding and the rest dancing around on piles of other people’s money. They also imagine their favorite band spending all of their time partying and not struggling to survive financially, so it’s no surprise that they think both are “selling out” when they take a step they need to take to succeed.
    Usually when I hear the term “sold out” I read it as “succeeded, but not in a way that fits my mental image.”
    Anyway, Nick, just keep up the good work. (And buy a Mac, and make a Mac version of TopStyle. Also, I’d like a pony.)

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  18. No, I don’t think you’ve “sold out” (whatever that means), but I don’t necessarily agree with the choices you’ve made, either.
    Running an ISV is really tough; I can’t fault you too much for feeling the need to partner up with larger, better funded organizations. I would have preferred it if you’d decided to grow internally instead of taking on outside partners; it would have enabled you to maintain better control over the roadmap, for one thing (*sigh* I still miss HomeSite).
    But as has been said above – it’s your life, you have to make the choices that are right for you. It seems you’d prefer to leave as much of the business and management end of the game to other people, even if that means losing control of your products. Frankly, that’s not the choice I’d make were I in your shoes, but such is life.

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  19. Nick, when accusations of selling out are made, the accuser is simply accusing you of not doing what the accuser thinks you should have done. Violating one’s own principles is a mandatory component of selling out – and clearly, that’s not what has happened here.
    In fact, it appears that the sale to NewsGator was highly congruent with your own principles and plan for TopStyle and FeedDemon. Now, your plan might not have worked out exactly as you intended, but that’s just life; selling out implies that you had intent to do so.
    So, don’t worry about it. You’ve done what you can do the best way you know to do it. And frankly, you’ve done it better than the next 100 guys probably could. Just be proud of that, re-tool whatever your original plan for your products was, and re-execute. You (and your users) will be just fine.

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  20. I haven’t been inconvenienced, and I haven’t noticed a decline in the quality of FeedDemon since you went to NewsGator. It’s often true that this type of thing happens, but I haven’t seen it with FeedDemon. I also think you negotiated a good deal with NewsGator for your existing customers when you moved.

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  21. Nick, you make great products, you stand behind them, and you really do listen to the customers. If you can make more money doing all that as part of NewsGator, more power to you. I have no problem with that. As long as the products continue to be good and you continue to listen to the customers as you and NewsGator have in the past, that’s all that really matters to me. How much you make out of the deal is really none of my business.
    For those of you who care, I credit myself as the person who started the discussion over the idea that if I purchase FD it should continue to work as a stand-alone product after my paid sync subscription runs out. There was a lot of discussion over this and Nick ended up changing his stance (and probably cost NG some money) based on the users who spoke up very strongly about it. I take that to be concrete evidence that his does listen to his customers and really cares what they think.

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  22. Nope, you didn’t sell out.
    Selling out means a very specific thing, it’s basically the selling of a person’s integrity in exchange for something, usually money, sex or special consideration and you’ve done none of those. As long as you keep your integrity then please make as much money as you possibly can!
    Anyone that has issues with making money from software obviously has never worked as a contractor or had to worry about money. I would much rather you become acquired to give yourself some financial stability so you can actually focus on working on TopStyle, FeedDemon and whatever else instead of having to abandon them to go grind out a 40 hour week doing something you dislike with the hopes of working on the projects in your spare time.
    People usually use the term “sell out” when they’re not getting their way.

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  23. You didn’t sell out Nick. Your software has always been rock solid and you did what you thought best for you and your software. None of us have suffered because of your decision, in fact, we have gained.
    Keep up the good work.

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  24. Thank you that you did sell out. I believe it’s the best you could do for your software, customers, and hopefully for yourself too.

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  25. I’ve used all three of your products nick and i must say that all three stood out as exceptional examples of their respective genres. What seems to be overlooked in all this is how much can one person be expected to achieve? The only way you could keep everyone happy is to work with other developers and that will eat into your time spent coding and designing (something i know you are loathe to do) .

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  26. What was bad was not you Nick, but NG’s continued promises unfulfilledof TS, the TS RSS feed that fed us little or nothing forever, the NG’s forums hints and maybe’s and soon’s, that never came…. you last many a user from pure unadulterated neglect.
    It was as it NG simply said, DONT SAY a thing any owners of TP. Hint once in a while, string em, bla bla bla…
    And those many folk have long ago done and paid for their new spiffy web app. They faintly barely remember using TP kinda sorta, and have fond memories of it, but the memories are vague and diffuse…
    An old but goodie gone wayside

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  27. Basically I do not think you “sold out”.
    FeedDemon is still a great feed reader, and you kept improving it after joining with NewsGator. It’s also quite possible to use it as a stand-alone reader.
    The only area where there may be a suspicion of “selling out” is with synchronization and integration with online readers. The problem here is that joining with NG means no integration with other readers, and no other ways to synch. Which is something you did start to work on before joining with NG.
    That’s a complex issue, though.
    On the one hand, you do have integration with one online reader (NG), and you do have very good synchronization between several installations of FeedDemon (using NG to synch the different clients).
    On the other hand, the synchronization will not work with an NG account, with no option to set things like automatic synch through a personal FTP account (or webdav, or whatever) and no option to synch with other reader (such as Bloglines). These are things that may have been added to FeedDemon if it was a stand-alone product, but I expect are unlikely to be added now with NG.
    Not exactly a sell-out, but this is the one area where it may come close.
    To put things in context, I’m using FeedDemon, and am very happy with it. I do have it installed on two different computers, so I’m using the synch ability through NG. And I occasionally, though rarely, read feeds online on NG. When it comes to an online reader, I slightly prefer the Bloglines interface to NG, but the FeedDemon integration/synch gives NG the advantage (I did have accounts on both for testing before you went to NG, and mostly used Bloglines for online feed reading before that).

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  28. Nick, I’ve followed your work for years and have immense respect for your ability. You set the standard with HomeSite, then did it again with TopStyle, and again with FeedDemon.
    For this exact reason, every time development stops (regardless of your intent) the user base will get frustrated. We want to use the best tools available, and the nature of software is that it must improve over time.
    While we pay you for a paricular version, we’re investing in the learning curve. Back in high school I switched from Paint Shop Pro to Photoshop 3 because I knew I needed to start the professional learning curve – that there would be plenty to learn with each new revision.
    I purchased your software for the same reason and went through dozens of text editors trying to find the ‘next’ version of HomeSite, the ‘next’ version of TopStyle (considering my investment lost when you sold them and no ‘real’ updates were happening).
    Ultimately, I will continue to subscribe to your blog and your attention stream because you’re brilliant and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
    However, while the term ‘sell out’ is a bit harsh, to break me from Textmate / CSS Edit / Coda (all which were enough of the ‘next’ versions for me) and have me run your next great app you’ll have to show that, regardless of whether you stop or sell, the community and the app will thrive with or without your direct involvement.

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  29. I have been a user since back in the day with Homesite and now TopStyle. To be honest, less than nice thoughts have crossed my mind when I saw you sell to NewsGator and watched a useful product (TS) fall by the side of the road. I had a feeling of great first Homesite, then TS. Why does he keep doing this to us. In the end though, it is your choice and you have to do what you have to do. I have certainly managed, though I kept hoping you’d pull something like the guys at Forte did with Agent (Usenet Reader).

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  30. Honestly, at some point I was pretty sure there would never be another TS release. This and the lack of UTF-8 support made me look at other apps long ago.
    But to be honnest, I couldn’t find any other app than came even close to TS when I have to build HTML/CSS templates. Nothing beats the split view “side-by-side”, with the preview window on another display :)

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  31. Hahaha, the previous post made me laugh… hmmm, should get a life.
    Nick, you didn’t sell out. You did what was best for you to start with and that’s the best you could ever do.
    And while I would have wished more updates to TopStyle, it did what it was meant to do remarkably well, it did it for years and kept working just fine under a new operating system (the latter wasn’t the case with quite a few other apps I’ve been using over the years and grown to rely on them). I always had a choice to move to something else other that TopStyle. And I didn’t because nothing quite made enough of an improvement to make me switch. And the last few improvements you’ve done for the Betas, fantastic!
    And by the way, the Find/Replace in Files you have added now to TopStyle 3.5 has finally… sold me out!
    Best regards,
    Jose

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  32. It was never an issue of ‘selling out’ for me, but rather the seeming disinterest from Newsgator and yourself when faced with increasing levels of frustration and anger from your customers – see http://forum.newsgator.com/Topic17882-16-1.aspx. Obviously from that thread many others felt the same.
    I don’t think a satisfactory reason was ever given for allowing that forum thread to continue for over a year without providing a satisfactory explanation to the concerns raised in it. The subsuequent explanation from Greg Reinacker (sp?) that he’d “been in talks” with a possible buyer was no excuse for allowing TopStyle to stagnate as long as it had.
    I lost confidence in Newsgator long before that thread was locked. I’ve stopped using FeedDemon as a result – RSSOwl works just fine for me. I’m currently trying to find a replacement for TopStyle (although, admittedly, that’s more to do with migrating to Linux).
    For those of us who’d been involved with and supported TopStyle from the early days, it all felt like a bit of a betrayal.

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  33. I wouldn’t say you ‘sold out’, abandoned is a more appropriate term. I don’t think your primary motivation for just walking away from your loyal customers was financial. In fact in the beginning I think you honestly though you could do both FeedDemon and TopStyle, I don’t believe any malice was involved on your part. You wrote HomeSite, then TopStyle and with TopStyle 3 it pretty much targeted the same audience that HomeSite did after it was abandoned. So you’ve been writing pretty much the same app for years and I can understand that when FeedDemon came along and was so successful that you’d want to spend more time on that. I can understand how you could feel that but as a TopStyle user that has no interest in FeedDemon understanding why you did it doesn’t help me accept it any more. At the end of the day you built of a pretty loyal customer base and then intentional or not essentially just walked away and left us hanging. Based on the activity level in the forums there aren’t that many left at this point, I’m not sure v3.5 is going to make that big of a difference. Especially since we have no way of knowing if there is going to be another huge lapse before v3.6 and frankly even if you give assurances you’ve lost that trust… you assured us this wouldn’t happen when you went to Newsgator and it did. You don’t rebuild that credibility in one point release update, I’m sorry.

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  34. @David, Nicholas: I can’t say I blame you for feeling that way. We did a very poor job responding to TopStyle customers, and as much as I hate to say it, we deserve some backlash for it.

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  35. You never sell out if you think about number one! Besides that the one shouting “sell out” are the ones who 1)Envy you the most. 2) would do it themselves in a heartbeat.
    No worries Nick, people talk, let them, look out for number one!

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  36. I just did a hard disk restore on my computer last week. After installing Windows Vista Ultimate, getting all my primary (used daily) tools installed, making a solid restore image, I went to get “everything else” installed.
    While trying to install TopStyle 3.0 (pro), I clicked the link to check for updates. I was taken to the link that sniffed the version I had installed, it told me TopStyle 3.12 was the latest, and to click a link to download it. When I did, I was taken to a page to download ONLY the beta. While that’s nice, I wanted to download TopStyle 3.12. Is that version no longer available since the beta is available? That makes no sense to me, but who am I?
    Cheers, and keep up the great work. Even if you did “sell out” (I never said that — heck, it means you’re successful when someone else buys the brand you created and developed!).

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  37. Oops! I just went back to that page with the message about the updated version.
    It seems the new (aka popup) window doesn’t open big enough to display everything. I just found the blue box saying 3.12 isn’t available yet — DESPITE at the top, in RED, the message saying the latest stable version is 3.12.
    Maybe someone maintaining the site can fix — sheesh, I have no idea — “something” — just to clarify what is or is not available or what is or is not the latest stable version. Something. :)

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