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Kagi sparks controversy with $5 VisualHub Lion update

o Lex Friedman
16.08.2011 kl 18:52 | Macworld.com

Kagi, a popular payment processor for independent software developers, recently began selling a $5 Lion-compatibility patch for the discontinued-in-2008 VisualHub video converter that the original software's developer says he didn't authorize--and isn't getting paid for. Kagi defends the move, arguing that it's merely helping less tech-savvy paying customers that it says the developer abandoned.

 

Kagi, a popular payment processor for independent software developers, recently began selling a $5 Lion-compatibility patch for the discontinued-in-2008 VisualHub video converter that the original software's developer says he didn't authorize--and isn't getting paid for. Kagi defends the move, arguing that it's merely helping less tech-savvy paying customers that it says the developer abandoned.

Years ago, Tyler Loch's one-man development shop Techspansion sold various media utilities for OS X. Among them was VisualHub, for converting movies between oodles of formats. It was a sad October 2008 day when Loch decided to shutter Techspansion's virtual doors. Though Loch no longer offers support for VisualHub, he did post updated files and instructions for getting VisualHub working on Lion.

After getting complaints from customers about Lion compatibility, however, Kagi--VisualHub's former payment processor--decided to offer its own vHub Updater for Visual Hub patch for $5, without informing Loch.

Visual Hub customer Lon Seidman received Kagi's email about its $5 updater, and at first thought the update was an official one from developer Loch. He told his story to The Unofficial Apple Weblog, which on Tuesday ran a story titled "Why you should not be paying for VisualHub."

I was a VisualHub customer too; I got Kagi's email. I too thought at first that this was an official patch from Techspansion. So when I spoke to Kagi CEO Kee Nethery, it was as both a customer and a Macworld reporter.

Nethery explained that the $5 updater Kagi now sells merely wraps the updates that Loch offers on his own site in a more usable interface. Loch's instructions for updating VisualHub require copying a trio of AppleScript files into the app's package contents; he also recommends installing an updated copy of the open source conversion utility ffmpeg.

"Our updater downloads his patches, and we also download the new ffmpeg," and then installs everything in the right places without requiring extra user involvement, said Nethery. The updater does its work on a duplicate copy of your installed version of VisualHub, naming the new version "VisualHub Lion."

I asked Nethery whether Kagi had spoken to Loch before offering its streamlined version of his freely-available updates. "We didn't," Nethery said. He explained further: "When he says that he's not providing support--he doesn't respond to our emails. We've stopped trying to contact him. He basically fell off the earth in 2008, so we didn't even bother to try to contact him."

Loch didn't respond immediately to Macworld's request for comment. On his website, however, he added this message: "Techspansion is not affiliated with the product 'vHub Updater' by Kagi. 'vHub Updater' makes unauthorized use of our copyrighted code. We do not support 'vHub Updater' and do not recommend its use. We did not consent to Kagi's use of our customer contact information for 'vHub Updater' mailings."

But Nethery sees things differently. "Kagi sold VisualHub to many many people [and] has been getting many calls from people who upgraded to Lion, and then found out that VisualHub no longer works," he said. "We initially directed our customers to Tyler's update page... but we have learned that [the instructions] are way beyond the comfort level of a great many Macintosh users."

I asked Nethery whether Kagi had considered including a link to Loch's site in either its promotional email or its website, as an alternative option for advanced users to their $5 friendlier version of the patch. "We did think about installing the link," he said. "It was a big philosophical discussion, and we've sort of fallen into the camp that Apple falls into: Less is better... We said, 'Let's just have one button'; if they haven't already found out about Tyler's updater, they probably are not in the realm of people that would be comfortable doing that. And so, rather than do that, we figured we wouldn't mention it."

Nethery added that, at its $5 pricepoint, the vHub Updater would at best break even. "We would be pleased if Tyler was to release an updater that performs the function that our vHub Updater performs," Nethery said. "His users deserve better than to be completely abandoned in 2008 and to be asked to be technical enough to edit an application package. We just want the customers to get the support they deserve."

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