NTXShape started out as a research project in the summer of 1995. While interning with ESRI Canada, I developed a Windows 3.1 dialog-box application that could read a CARIS NTX file and summarize the contents.
In 1996, when ArcView 3 appeared with its new plug-in extension mechanism, we realized that an ArcView extension that translates CARIS NTX files into coverages or shapefiles would have commercial value. After some consideration we chose shapefiles, since the format is open.
So, we used the research code as a starting point for the production version, and ended ended up with an ArcView Extension (built around a Win32/Win32s DLL), and a 32-bit command line application for our ARC/INFO customers and for batch conversions.
NTXShape 1.0 was released as a commercial application in January of 1997. Over the next few years, a steady trickle of floppy disks, and later, email attachments, went out with NTXShape on them. We also used the tool ourselves in a number of consulting projects. Customers provided feedback which helped us refine the tool, making the conversion more and more faithful to how things appear in CARIS, and helping us to figure out where more flexibility was needed in the command line tool.
The user community has been instrumental in this process: we at ESRI Canada don't have access to CARIS, so we really have no way of knowing when we have interpreted a CARIS file differently than CARIS would, except when a user tells us we got something wrong. So, in a very real sense, the users have been helping us improve this tool since day one.
In the second half of 1999 we realized that the profit from selling NTXShape was small compared to the goodwill that it would generate if it were free. So, it became free in early 2000.
Now it's 2002, and it's time to take the next step: not only will NTXShape be free; it will also be open source software. And it will stay that way, because derivative works automatically fall under the same license. For end users, this means that bugs can be fixed / new features added more quickly than they were before, because the direction of the product is literally in your hands.