What are the “free minutes” for the .NET Framework?

A comment on my last post got me thinking about the issues around redisting the framework.  I have known for a long time that some of our customers have trouble with the size of .NET Framework redist package.  We have talked about a huge number of ways to address it, but one that keeps coming up is the AOL model of carpet bombing CDs that include the .NET Framework redist.  That way apps could just “assume” it is there.    I must admit I have even advocated it myself in the past… but just today someone from marketing made it very clear to me why this alone will not work.  People don’t take those CDs because AOL has great software; they do it for the free minutes.  The free minutes are what drives the average end user to install the AOL… the CDs just lower the barrier.


So, what do you think are the “free minutes” for the .NET Framework?  Some cool end user app?  What would it do?  Maybe free songs from MSN?  Other ideas?  What would get your mom to install the .NET Framework?


Comments (48)

  1. Uwe Keim says:

    Nothing! I forbid my mom to install any software, since I removed a virus the third time from her PC 🙂 And in addition, my mom is not working as an administrator on her PC…

  2. daniel says:

    I think you guys missed the boat with XP SP2, a few more megabytes in download and millions of people would instantly have it. We have some winforms products and it’s a real pain to worry about the .NET framework install.

  3. Chris Auld says:

    I’m with Daniel…… SP2 was much more than a normal SP anyway so I’m amazed that the Framework wasn’t in there… Please don’t tell me it was yet more anti-trust issues that prevented it.

  4. Dean says:

    I agree…XP SP2 was a no brainer and should have distributed it. Sure, there are still the Win 9.x users but this would have covered a slew of folks and the many that will be shifting to XP later. It’s too late to be thinking of some hokey way to advertise it now.

  5. Kevin Dente says:

    +1 on the XP SP2 comment. I definitely don’t understand that one. Unless, of course, MS was concerned that security vulnerabilities would be found in the framework, and then people would be annoyed that it was installed even though they never asked for it.

  6. anon says:

    That’s an intreaguing idea…

    The secret is definately to give it away with something people will want, that installs it automatically (as far as it can)…hmm…much like spywear hehe.

    My (limited) experience with trying to explain to people that you need .NET to run Program X is either "I can’t be bothered installing/downloading TWO things" …or "LOL WTF?!!" but theres no hope there 🙂

  7. Kevin Daly says:

    I agree with apparently the entire known universe about the XP SP2 issue.

    The Framework needs to be a given with Windows, just like Win32.

  8. Joe Cincotta says:

    This post hooked me straight away! I have a couple of thoughts about this:

    1. the .NET framework should have some kind of self updating capability in it – case in point is Macromedia Flash and Shockwave. Since the introduction of updating features for the Flash platform in 1999 (approx), developers/companies have been willing and able to take advantage of the latest platform features sooner due to the ‘auto proliferation’ of the latest version of the environment. Whilst this does not cover the immediate issue it would mean that rollout of future updates to the framework would have a lower adoption barrier. I don’t know if MS really experienced this barrier with 1.0 to 1.1 – however I have a feeling that due to the maturity/proliferation of the Framework to this point it will feel a serious speedbump getting end users to 2.0 – even WITH back compatability.

    2. a "low hanging fruit" to get .NET framework deployed is to leverage existing applications which have strong demand. IE: Give away a free version of "blah" but rebuild the version of the application using the ‘managed’ switch. Example in point was a recent MSDN video where Quake2 was rebuilt with the managed switch on using VC7 and it still performed well. If you find a crossection of applications which have a high perceived value and have the ability to "rebuild with managed" and then distribute them for free using the aforementioned carpet bomb approach you can attract a crossection of target segments (end users) in one shot. Free minutes has a much broader approach since "money" has a universal appeal and the product on offer is pretty generic ("ISP").

    Products which would have appeal:

    *Games (ala Quake2);

    *Productivity and Communications ie:

    *Some .NET office hybrid thing – maybe RSS integration with Outlook/OLEx which is developed using .NET

    *Some exclusive extensions to MSN Messenger developed using .NET – providing access to exclusive content or providing an exclusive function.

    *Stupid viral-marketing style toys. Desktop friend, Karmasutra position of the day, this sort of stuff spreads like wildfire.

  9. Steve Maine says:

    What about bundling the framework with Windows Media Player?

  10. Brad, you might check out Paint.NET at my blog. "Free minutes" perhaps?

    Part of the build process makes a self-extracting EXE that first installs .NET if necessary, then runs the Paint.NET (or "PDN") msi. Bloats the installer download by over 20mb though which is why it isn’t on the current Paint.NET webpage. That solution works very well for normal distribution though, you don’t have to ask someone "Hey do you have .NET?" first. You just give them the biggie-size installer.

  11. Buz says:


    +1 for the above comment concerning XP SP2. The .Net Framework should now be installed on every new PC!

    What about a ".Net Sampler CD" just like the "Windows Media Player Sampler CD" I used to get during conferences few years ago (well, it was maybe a Microsoft France initiative) ? Such a sampler may include a lot of free, third party stuff.

    Just have a look at http://www.pixvillage.com for my own contribution to such "free minutes" :-). It’s a photo-sharing software that propagates the pictures using a p2p technology.

    Installer bootstrap is in C++ and automatically downloads and installs the framework if needed, then starts a custom, .Net setup wizard. The software itself is of course fully .Net’d.

  12. Marauderz says:

    Would just like to point out that the latest ATI Catalyst Control Center runs on 1.1,there’s your free minutes perharps?

  13. I couldn’t understand why the latest framework redist wasn’t including with SP2 either. Especially since these cd’s will supposedly be given out all over the place. Would have been a perfect opportunity! Perhaps it comes down to an anti-trust issue?

  14. Ross says:

    Why not include it with IE 7 for XP/2000? 🙂

  15. Len Weaver says:

    I don’t think you should do anything about it. Distributing the <EM>current</EM> version of the framework is only slightly useful. Within a year that version will become the <EM>previous</EM> version. Besides, boardband connections are catching on fast, and are only slightly more expensive than dial-up. It seems to me that this problem will disappear on its own without MS having to do anything.

  16. Ross says:

    Len said: "It seems to me that this problem will disappear on its own without MS having to do anything."

    Len I am convinced that Sun said exactly the same thing about the Java runtime, do *you* have it installed?

  17. Steve says:

    I would think that including it in any Microsoft software and/or download from here on out would be the way to go. Look at IE originally… You had to start somewhere.

  18. Paul says:

    Hrm… Len said "boardband connections are catching on fast, and are only slightly more expensive than dial-up. It seems to me that this problem will disappear on its own without MS having to do anything."

    Its just a pitty that not everyone in the entire planet has the luxury of broadband. Over here in South Africa we can get it (in most areas) but as opposed to paying R120 for a dialup (including ISP and telephone company costs but excluding call costs), our broadband solutions start at about R650 for WiMAX access, which has very limited coverage, and goes up to about R900 a month for ADSL. Add to that the fact that not everyone with a PC has an internet connection, and you start to see that getting copies of the framework to users of your applications becomes a bit of a nightmare.

    Giving away free MSN Music would be great, except that it would only be valid in the USA – Most music services don’t seem to be able to reach far out of their base country – iTunes doesn’t let people from many countries (including South Africa) download their music, and MSN Music seems pretty much only for North America.

    My mom would probably install it if there was some nice photo album software or maybe if it included a discount on buying some Anti-virus software… Tough thing to decide on – I’d love to have had it ship with XPSP2 but I guess then people would have complained that it was being bloated, and that its clear purpose (as a "Security Fix") was being diluted.

  19. Sergio Pereira says:

    One idea that came to my mind is to bundle the redist with some security-related utility that everybody will like to have. Security is in the spotlight right now and putting the Microsoft brand on a piece of software to help protect their PC’s won’t (I hope not) make people second-guess installing it.

    Some sort of desktop version of what already exists at the MS website, with virus alerts, daily tips, shortcut to firewall configuration (assuming SP2), check the list of running processes for known worms/spyware, and other things like that.

    Like other people mentioned, coupons or gift certificates would not help very much outside the U.S.

  20. Jeff says:

    PLEASE don’t follow AOL’s lead and mail hundered of thousands of CD’s out for hundreds of thousands of people to throw away (whether they install it or not). What a waste. Ask around and find out if people like the way AOL mails out all of those CD’s. I bet you find out most people either don’t like them or throw them away without even looking at them.

    Why does somebody need the .Net framework? They need it because an application uses it. How do they get that application? They either download it or buy it at the store. If they normally download apps then they either have broadband or are willing to wait for apps to download. In this case they can download the framework. If they buy it at the store the framework will be on the CD if the software requires it.

    It seems you are targeting people who are only willing to download very small apps (less than 5 megs say) but not a 20 meg download. How many apps fall into this category? How many people are willing to download a 5 meg app but not a one time 20 meg download? It seems your targeting a relatively small audience.

    No special CD mailing was needed to get the Java runtime onto people’s machines. Yes it was smaller but it was also out at a time when everyone was on dialup but it got onto everyone’s machines.

    Once you come up with the killer app advertise it for people to download and then provide a form to get it on CD *if they request it*.

    Add another vote for "you should have included it with SP2"….that was definately a no-brainer. Include it with the next version of IE or something.

  21. WPoust says:

    My mom doesn’t install anything. If it’s not on the computer already or get automatically pushed down, you are out of luck.

    She uses IE (and IE 4, 5, 6, 6+ doesn’t mean anything to her), Word, Outlook Express (email to her), and most of all Solitare.

    Her computer has Windows 98 and she is satisfied with that. We offered to get her a new computer for Christmas and she wouldn’t hear of it.

  22. Stephane Rodriguez says:

    How is it you faint to know that OEMs are selling new PCs with the .NET run-time preinstalled. All you need is that it reaches critical mass.

    Of course, if reaching critical mass turns out meaningless givne the rate at which .NET run-times get obsoleted, then you might want to find a more reachable solution.

    By the way, claiming that only 20MB is involved is a plain lie. It’s like forgetting that prior installing Visual Studio you need to install a bunch of prerequisites. eg. you need to install an appropriate MDAC redisribuable if you happen to use ADO.NET.

    I have seen scenarios where you end up at more than 120MB.

    So may be stopping to lie might ge tyou some redemption from your sin, sort of.

  23. Joel Spolsky says:

    You’re missing the point about the AOL disks. AOL spends hundreds of dollars to acquire one subscriber. Does Microsoft want to spend hundreds of dollars to get one more system with .Net Framework installed?

    Just give me my damn linker already! 🙂


  24. You know the problem with a linker is that we can’t patch statically linked code. That means if there is a security issue we are at the mercy of the app vendors to patch… Which doesn’t seem like a good place for our customers.

  25. Eusebio Rufian-Zilbermann says:

    Have you considered the apps from http://www.windowsforms.net/Default.aspx?tabindex=8&tabid=3 ? A nice screensaver, a picture sharing application, a personal productivity and a business tool. Just add a game that is easy to play (something like the Solitaire that comes with Windows) and advertising so that people hear about them 🙂

  26. Steve says:


    If you really want a linker – try Thinstall (www.thinstall.com). It allows you to package the framework with your exe. It even compresses the file so your exe doesn’t grow 20MB. Packaging them together also allows you to use features specific to the framework version you use since there’s no risk of the user running a differnt version with your app.

  27. marko says:

    I agree with Joe C. as far as auto updating feature. I think carpet bombing with CD’s a la AOL is not that great of an idea. Carpet bombing with CD’s would give many people the impression that Microsoft was trying to shove .NET down people’s throats… who would ever think of such a thing! 😉

    A small standard bootstrap on the otherhand, that would prompt a user to download the dist. package would be more obvious. Doing anything a al AOL would just upset a whole lotta people. Including me, but nobody listens to me. 😛

    As far as "free minutes", the application that needs to run on X Person’s computer should be the low hanging fruit. Granted, to run a 50K application and download a 20MB runtime is a bit off, but there is such value added in having the runtime on someone’s machine.


  28. joseph says:

    OK I got one. How about a super slick P2P app that is even better than torrent and emule (actually combines the nice feature sets of both). No Spyware. Just a free fantastitc (3rd gen) P2P app. Since it’s now official (grokster judgement) that software makers can’t be sued (not that MSFT doesn’t have deep pockets).

    With all the nice networking stack on .NET, take the best engineers, make sure you add proper upnp support (better than the crappy way it’s implemented on MSN messenger and azzureus) and you are good to go.

    I sure as hell would get friends and family to install that golden nugget. That’s the killer app for .NET and MS. A super nicely crafted P2P app.

    You could even put it in sp2b or sp3 embedded (like windows messenger was embedded). Now that would be a super cool thing to have.

    P2p sharing built-in with no pain, almost like a SMB/netbios stack (except much better).

  29. RJ says:

    joseph: That’s funny you mention a P2P app. The only thing using the JRE on my computer is Azureus. At first I avoided it because I didn’t want the JRE. But, in the end, Azureus is the best BitTorrent client, thus I now have the latest JRE installed.

  30. GD says:

    Definitely some cool DX9 3D screensavers, written in managed code of course.

  31. Partner with Hoyle Games for an uber-solitaire system and give it away for free on a CD at Thriftway.

  32. Martin Smith says:

    I disagree Brad. To say that you would like to keep framework unlinked to patch security issues is like saying that you would like to force C++ developers link dynamically to the STL so you could do the same thing. When a developer creates an application, he or she takes the risk associated with possibly introducing some security bugs. If your customers are the developers, why not let them make that decision for themselves. If a developer is willing to take some risk (which admitedly is less of a risk than deploying any C++ app), let them take it.

    At my company we had a 5MB app which with the framework was like 26MB. Also, having a framework linked dynamically means there are alot more open points for your code to be stolen even if you use an obfuscator. They can see you’re still calling System.Registry or System.IO and can check for when you’re embedding your license data. So we bought Thinstall (and also considered remotesoft) and now made an application that will have security errors whenever the .NET framework does. Honestly, I trust my company to get patches to my customers more than I trust Microsoft to. If there’s an error in our application, I think we can quickly get 80% or more of our customers to upgrade. I doubt microsoft could get that 80% to upgrade. I thought the customers were "Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers"? Well, the developers want a linker! It really would make our lives so much better.

  33. Brad Williams says:

    This question is sad, because it assumes there isn’t a compelling reason to install the framework, so instead compelling marketing must be constructed. If MS has trouble giving Mom a reason to need the framework … does she really need it at all?

  34. Eddie says:

    I´m wondering that MS do not use the .NET Framework for its applications.

    The CLR could be installed with every MS Application which is downloaded. Media Player, any Office Application, any newly released version of any MS Application. Even the Intellipoint driver could do it if it´s necessary.

    I´m asking myself why MS isn´t using the .NET Framework for its apps? Is migrating so difficult? Even Quake runs on the CLR, why not IE or Outlook Express?

  35. Andy Sujdak says:

    You’re targetting the wrong group. Don’t make it easy for end users to install it themselves. Make it JIT, just like IL. Basically, what I’m trying to say is target the framework at .NET developers themselves. Make it stupidly easy for them to write installer applications that include the .NET framework as part of the package.

    Saying "your admin can just xcopy" is weak. .NET install is better than anything before it, but how hard would it be to push some little applet on the dev community as a "best practice installer" or something. Or, better yet, make it so that the default release mode compile comes with an install wizard preattached to it, where any release mode program contains the framework.

    If you really wanted to make it work, don’t just "put it in Whidbey". You’d have to put this feature in a service pack for VS.NET 1.0 and 1.1 as well.

    You’ve always been most successful in the past by making life easy for developers. Why not continue to work an angle with a group that you’ve already killed yourself to please?

  36. Edward says:

    I thought it was on the SP2 discs, at least it was on the Beta ISOs. It was not installed by default, you had to get it through "Perform Additional Tasks" on the Autorun screen.

    Since MS is already planning to carpet bomb the world with SP2 discs I don’t think it’s going to be that much of a problem for customers to get hold of one. When clickonce comes around that will also bootstrap the framework if it is not already present.

    ITunes for windows is about 20MB to download and loads of people have that installed. It doesn’t incrementally auto update and you need the latest version to access the ITMS so I must have downloaded it at least 5 times by now.

    Just make something exciting enough and it won’t take long for it to spread

  37. MS should either have a comp for .Net games or get a bunch of the best .Net games (for all ages) and put them on a CD with the framework. Even if you don’t play the games your kids may. Also I think you should allow game or pc mags to include the .Net Framework if they aren’t already allowed to.

  38. Kurt Griffiths says:

    Why can’t there be a way to create a compact framework install that only downloads the pieces the app needs that aren’t installed on the system already? After downloading a few shareware apps, customers would have the most commonly used parts of the framework installed.

  39. Matt Hargett says:

    If Microsoft chooses to fulfill it’s obligations to millions of paying customers and update win98 and/or win2k with a security update on the order of XP SP2, it could be easily rolled into there.

    Having a merge module that worked better out of the box with VS.NET and the Express editions would probably help, also.

  40. Joe Ward says:

    Why not just install it via Auto-Update. Make it a required update – after all it is part of the OS. Then bundle it with all versions of MS Office and have it installed whenever Office installs – just like installing a service pack. It is only 20MB so with Auto-Update on, most everyone would have it within a week or two. And those w/out internet will be using CD’s anyway and so they can get it with Office or with any .NET app on a CD.

  41. Uh, what am I missing? Windows Update seems to be the solution to me, no?

  42. Ashvil says:

    How about an option pack or plus pack.


    You guys sell Microsoft Plus …


    That would be a good bundle.

    Warm Regards,


  43. Robert says:

    I think its a bad idea to push the framework out.

    You mom really doesn’t need the .Net framework, I promise.

    More and more applications are coming out written in .Net, and users who wants to run those apps will find a way to do that. There’s no need for bullying.

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