The Truth About ‘Free’ Mac App Store Software Upgrades in OS X Mavericks

The Truth About ‘Free’ Mac App Store Software Upgrades in OS X Mavericks

There have been a number of reports lately revealing that OS X Mavericks seems to be allowing users to “upgrade illegal or trial version” Apple software obtained outside the Mac App Store. Notable examples of such software include versions of iWork, iLife, or Aperture obtained on a DVD disc, or trial versions of such apps (the defunct trial pages for iWork and Aperture still exist on Apple.com).

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 11.24.40 AM

Indeed, according to reports from The Verge, 9to5Mac, and others, users with trial or illegal versions of the software are finding that they are able to update to the recently-released new versions of each of these Apps (released alongside Apple’s event this Tuesday). I held off on reporting this myself until I could find some real information on the matter.


While updates for legit, paid versions of each app – even those obtained before the days of the Mac App Store – have always received updates through Software Update via the Mac App Store, the fact that trial versions were being converted into fully functioning paid versions of Apple’s software piqued my interest, so I decided to dig around and figure out exactly what was going on.

I initially spotted a tidbit related to Aperture after updating to the release version of Mavericks on Tuesday – namely that the update to Aperture 3.5 was not available for me through Software Update in the Mac App Store. After waiting several hours to no avail, I further found that the standalone Aperture 3.5 update was also not available through Apple’s support download site.

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After logging out and then back into the Mac App Store, the Aperture update finally appeared for me. So I installed it – and got a nice surprise in the process. First, the Mac App Store alerted me that it would associate the apps with my Apple ID, and asked me to sign in. After updating, Aperture began appearing in my Mac App Store purchase history – something that had never happened before. I tested the process with an old iLife ’09 DVD, and after upgrading through the Mac App Store, found the same to hold true for GarageBand, iPhoto, and iMovie.

Mac App Store Provisioning

I reached out to one of my contacts at Apple to find out what might be happening – and his response was very interesting:

It’s no coincidence that Apple’s support site doesn’t have downloads for the new Aperture, iWork, and iLife updates. They aren’t in our Software Update system either – and there’s a good reason for that. With Mavericks, we have changed the way we distribute updates for legacy versions of our apps

Rather than maintain separate updates for these in addition to the Mac App Store versions of each app, Apple has decided to eliminate their legacy software update system for apps entirely. Instead, when Mavericks discovers legacy apps installed on your Mac, it provisions them as a Mac App Store purchase using your Apple ID. It saves us a lot of time, effort, and bandwidth. After the provision is complete, it will appear in your Mac App Store history as though you have purchased the Mac App Store version of the app.

While we are aware that this enables piracy of our apps for unethical users, Apple has never taken a strong stance or action against piracy in the past. We like to believe that our users are honest, even if that belief is in vain.

While I received this information from a source within Apple’s software engineering team, the clues are abundantly available – anyone with a watchful eye could have easily discovered enough clues to reach the same conclusion. Indeed, even now, Tuesday’s updates to Aperture, the iLife apps, and the iWork suite remain absent from Apple’s support download site (links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), adding an additional level of confirmation.

Wrapping it Up

To conclude and reiterate – yes, OS X Mavericks will allow unethical users to update trial versions and illegal versions of Apple’s paid apps to fully-functioning versions in the Mac App Store. But unlike many have speculated, this isn’t a bug, a glitch, or an oversight. Instead, it is a feature, and a lingering sign that Apple continues to trust their customers not to steal software – and that, my friends, is a beautiful thing indeed.

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