The company is CoffeeCup Software, and the product is its new CoffeeCup HTML Editor 2005, a Web developer's tool that aims to knock Microsoft's own editor, FrontPage 2003, for a loop.
The new application, which adds full WYSIWYG capabilities to the fast editing power of early versions of CoffeeCup, will retail for $69, according to company officials. But, as I explain below, an unrestricted copy will be sent free of charge to any U.S. citizen who simply e-mails a photo of himself or herself in front of any polling place on Nov. 2.
The Possibilities Boggle The Mind
CoffeeCup's gambit to pump up the vote — and also pump out several thousand copies of its flagship product to politically-aware citizens — lends itself to hordes of imitators:
• Clean up your room and Bill Gates will send you a free copy of Microsoft Project.
• Manage to get your checkbook in balance and Intuit will let you download the latest edition of TurboTax, gratis.
• Guess what number Larry Ellison is thinking and receive a multicore license for Oracle.
With the right promotions, these companies could be huge.
First HTML, Then The World
Previous versions of the CoffeeCup editor have attracted a hard core of HTML fanatics who crave total control over their code. The upstart editor is often compared favorably against Microsoft products, since the CoffeeCup application supports HTML-style code but inserts none of the extra, Microsoft-specific tags that often appear in files saved by FrontPage or Microsoft Word.
CoffeeCup CEO Nicholas Longo says his company's new 2005 product is a complete re-write, not just a tweaked revision of the earlier versions.
"We added full WYSIWYG, side-by-side editing," Longo says. "If you want to use it as a WYSIWYG person would, like FrontPage, you can do that, but you can still go in and edit the HTML."
Since editors such as Dreamweaver ($399 list) and FrontPage ($199) have had WYSIWYG editing capabilities for years, these two heavily promoted products long ago earned a healthy base of Web developers.
The less-expensive CoffeeCup editor, however, claims more than 8 million users worldwide and is making a bid for the rest of the market that it doesn't already own.
The vote-and-you'll-get-it-free promotion is obviously a part of that strategy — and one that many companies with a Web presence could benefit from taking advantage of.
How To Get Yours
Longo says about 1,000 people have already sent in their photos to claim their copies of the new software. Thousands more such requests are expected.
The first wave of applicants are people taking pictures of "early voting and absentee ballots," according to Longo, "including a couple of people who are Americans abroad." (With the numerous reports I've seen of snafus overseas, it may be easier for American expatriates to get a free copy of CoffeeCup than to actually get their absentee ballots submitted in time to be counted.)
Some early voters are even sending in mini-documentaries of themselves approaching the polling place, an election worker handing them a ballot, and so on, although such artistic creations aren't being sought, Longo says.
To be sure, there are circumstances in which it's illegal to pay voters to vote a certain way, or to vote at all. But CoffeeCup seems to have thought of this by giving away its software to anyone who merely shows that he or she was in the vicinity of a polling place or an absentee ballot, whether or not they actually voted.
To get your free copy of CoffeeCup 2005, simply e-mail to the company any photo of yourself at a U.S. polling place or with an absentee ballot no later than Nov. 9, 2004. Use the following e-mail address (I'm spelling out the punctuation of the address herein so spammers won't "harvest" it and send a flood of e-mail): vote at coffeecup dot com.
CoffeeCup Software publishes its editor and almost two dozen other utilities in 30-day trial versions, but the version of CoffeeCup 2005 that's being given away to voters is not time-limited or restricted, Longo says. That's a deal that's hard to beat.
If all this catches on, perhaps someday we'll see an announcement from Microsoft saying, "Show us that you have a Web site and we'll send you a free copy of FrontPage!"