Mac App Store stumbles over pre-owned apps

Apple’s Mac App Store is up and running. It works. It works well. Very well. Apple has done a great job with this software, especially considering it is a 1.0 product.

Of course, “working well” does not mean “working perfectly.” I have already had one significant problem. Fortunately, it has an easy solution.

The bug first cropped up when I attempted to install the same app on two different Macs. I started by installing the app on my Mac Pro. The app was Bare Bones Software’s TextWrangler, but the bug is not specific to this app (I subsequently had the same exact same symptom with two other apps).

I already owned TextWrangler. A copy was on my drive, located within a subfolder I had created in the Applications folder. When I selected to “purchase” the free TextWrangler from the App Store, the app successfully installed. To my pleasant surprise, the App Store was wise enough to know that an existing copy of the app was on my drive. The App Store replaced the existing copy with the new one—even installing the new copy in the subfolder where the old copy had been (rather than the default Applications folder). So far… so good.

Next, I went to my MacBook Air to repeat the procedure. It too already had TextWrangler installed. In this case, I went to the Purchases section of the Mac App Store. TextWrangler was listed there—with a button to Update (not Install). A bit oddly, the app was not similarly listed in the Updates section—probably because I had not acquired TextWrangler from the Mac App Store on this Mac as yet. It may also be that a Mac App Store app is a slightly updated version of its non-App Store sibling, needed to accommodate the requirements of the App Store. Perhaps there should be a Replace button in Purchases for such situations. But I digress.

Here is where trouble developed. When I clicked the Update button for TextWrangler, the app would not install. Instead, I got the following unhelpful error message:

As I said, the solution was simple. I quit the Mac App Store app. I moved the existing copy of TextWrangler to the Trash. When I relaunched App Store and returned to Purchases, TextWrangler now had an Install button. I clicked it and the app successfully installed—in the same folder where the now-deleted copy had been.

An alternative solution is to exit the Purchases section and locate the app in the App Store itself (via a Search, if needed). You can now click to Install. It will succeed. When you go back to Purchases, you’ll find the app correctly listed as Installed. However, this solution may only be useful for free apps.

As it turns out, this is just one of several related glitches.

For example, when I selected to view the iPhoto page in the Mac App Store, it (correctly) indicated that iPhoto was already “Installed” on my drive. I am talking here about the iPhoto page, not the list in Purchases. Presumably because I had not installed iPhoto from the Mac App Store, iPhoto did not show up in my Purchases list. I could find no way to install iPhoto from the Mac App Store, so as to get it to show up in Purchases. Well, there was one way. If I removed the existing copy of iPhoto from my drive, I could now select to purchase it. But the App Store no longer recognized that I owned a copy; it charged me $14.99 for a new copy of iPhoto. I suppose the rationale for the Installed non-button is to prevent you from purchasing an app you already own. This makes sense. Still, it would be preferable to have a way to update to the Mac App Store version of an app if you wished.

In yet another misstep, the Mac App Store did not recognize that I had the iWork apps (Keynote, Pages and Numbers) installed on my drive. It simply listed them as available for purchase.

What these glitches have in common is that they all involved apps that I already owned and was trying to reacquire via the Mac App Store. It may take time, and a few App Store updates, before Apple gets this all sorted out. In any case, as people begin to acquire most of their apps from the Mac App Store, it will become less of an issue.

Why, you may ask, did I want to reacquire (via the Mac App Store) software that I already owned? Mainly because I can then use the Store to track updates and install them as they become available.

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