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Why you should not be paying for VisualHub (Updated)

VisualHub was a video conversion application popular several years ago. The app was shuttered in 2008, but it continued to work in OS X until Lion rolled out. Lon Seidman, a Visual Hub customer, recently received an email from online payment processor Kagi that offered a Lion-compatible update to the video conversion app. That sounds great, except this email and the US $4.99 payment was not authorized by VisualHub developer Tyler Loch.

Loch did update his app to support Lion, but this new version is available for free from the VisualHub website. Loch even put a warning on his website accusing Kagi of distributing an unauthorized version of vHub Updater and is telling people not to purchase this version. Kagi was the official payment processor for VisualHub when it was an active application so perhaps this is just a misunderstanding and not an attempt by Kagi to fleece VisualHub users. Either way, VisualHub owners should avoid paying Kagi and download the update for free.

Update: [Mike Rose] Seidman spoke to Kagi CEO Kee Nethery about the 'unofficial' VisualHub update tool. According to Nethery, his payment processing company often handles simple support questions for software purchasers, even though the responsibility for support actually rests with the developer.

In the case of VisualHub, since developer Tyler Loch has stopped distributing his app, Kagi pointed users to Loch's patch instructions on the Techspansion site. Despite the fact that the effort to patch the app is minimal, the process of showing the app package contents and replacing three script files was apparently beyond the "comfort level" of many users contacting Kagi for help.

Facing what he describes as a "support nightmare," Nethery took the unprecedented step of building a patcher application that replaced the three script files and also updated the underlying version of ffmpeg used to power the app's compression features. He apparently is frustrated that Loch chose to "walk away from a business" when he stopped developing and selling VisualHub.

Macworld also interviewed Nethery and Loch, with similar comments from the Kagi chairman. Loch, however, points out that while there is an open-source descendant of VisualHub (FilmRedux), the original app and the Lion-specific patch files are still copyrighted and closed-source. Loch had no advance notice of Kagi's intent to bundle and sell his patches and did not give his approval.

While we can sympathize with Kagi's dilemma and the challenge of responding to upset customers, apparently Nethery forgot that VisualHub is not Kagi's product. The unofficial patcher app issued without Loch's permission is a slap in the face for independent developers who work with Kagi, as up until today they probably believed that their apps were theirs to support or abandon as they saw fit.

Whether or not you agree with Loch's decision to close out VisualHub, it is his decision and his alone when to EOL a product. Providing the patches for Lion is a courtesy, not an obligation, and Kagi would be far better off saying "the product is no longer supported, sorry" than pulling this end run. At a bare minimum, a courtesy email to Loch letting him approve or deny permission for the updater app would have been the civil thing to do.

Loch's notes on the Lion patch include a wry comment, "Enjoy VisualHub for a little while longer, until Apple discontinues support for AppleScript Studio apps or 32bit apps or non-sandboxed apps." Clearly the zombie support for this discontinued app is a fragile thing, and it can and will break. What will Kagi do then for its frustrated customers? Nothing -- and for better or worse, that's what it should be doing now.

[Via Lon Seidman]

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