I visited Macupdate.com today as I do at least twice a month. There was a time when I linked to the site a few times a year on my old blog. I went to their events, promoted their giveaways and MacUpdate even advertised on my first tech-focused blog with a banner-ad and other giveaways. Joel Mueller and 1-2 other people ran that site very well. They were far superior to download.com and back then, it was a very clear advantage:

  • Download applications directly from search results without needing to go to an application page and now, a download page (to increase page—views / sell ads)
  • App Reviews
  • Easy to search. Just type in Macupdate.com/Time%20Lapse and it would return a page of search results saving even more time
  • No ad-ware
  • Minimal ads
  • Approachable staff that was in the business of making discovery easy, downloads easy, etc.

Over the years, the MacUpdate experience has degraded. According to LinkedIN, most of the company is still based in Michigan and it doesn’t appear they’ve been fully bought out. Joel is even still involved with the title of “Founder”. I also don’t see any business news published in Crunchbase.

Today, I was downloading the Time Lapse Encoder tool to assemble some photos I took with the GoPro and I was greeted with an installer DMG that wasn’t the one the developer used. it was some strange package with a Macupdate logo and a prompt to install Yahoo extensions and make Yahoo my homepage.

The entire process is documented here and you can see it on this YouTube video.

Following Mr. Urdaneta’s hints, I sought out the Skype page on the MacUpdate site and downloaded the app. The result was a file named Skype Installer.dmg, which seems legit on first glance. However, opening this disk image file results in a MacUpdate installer, very similar to the adware-riddled custom installers used by sites like Download.com and Softonic.

Sure enough, when running this installer, it will display a license agreement that the user is likely to click right past, giving the installer the right to change the browser’s settings and install a “Search-Assist” browser extension

The only thing about Macupdate’s website that I loved pre-2010 that remains is the App Reviews and the very easy to use URL search parameters. Everything else is in the shitter. It really seems like Mac Update has had to adapt to the times. I got the feeling back in the day that Joel put his heart and soul into the company. He was a good ‘ol midwest guy and he wanted to be friends with everyone, make a great website and pay his bills. He was proud that MacUpdate was no where as awful as download.com and he was proud of what he had accomplished but I got the feeling he was always just barely keeping the lights on going against the juggernaut CNET for Mac App Directories.

As ad-revenue became really important and then the Mac App Store launched, I guess Joel took to very extreme tactics to keep his staff paid and resorted to Malware, Adware, advertisements and pop-overs. The site is a mess and I won’t be using it anymore.

It looks like the last time he and I shared an email was in 2009. I’ve sent Joel an email to see if he’s up for chatting. He’s a great guy and I assume the site had to go this way to stay profitable.

Joel Mueller, MacUpdate

Joel and I in 2004.