Bartender Logo Under New Ownership over the top

My View of the Bartender App Kerfuffle

You may or may not have heard that there was quite the kerfuffle this week about the beloved-by-many Mac app, Bartender. If you’re unfamiliar with Bartender, the problem it solves is to help you manage your menu bar items. My most recent article about Bartender was just in November when developer Ben Surtees came out with a massive upgrade with version 5.

The short story is that Ben sold Bartender to a company called Applause. The kerfuffle happened mostly because of the fact that Ben and Applause didn’t announce the sale and that lack of disclosure made things look very suspicious.

When the transfer occurred, a new certificate had to be issued to Applause per Apple’s signing requirements. If we’d known it was being transferred, it wouldn’t have raised any red flags.

Applause also included Amplitude’s digital analytics framework in the new release, which is a system designed to analyze user behavior on a platform. The new user analysis coupled with the seemingly under-the-table way the software ownership was transferred caused the service MacUpdater to raise the alarm.

Only after the world was on fire about this did Ben issue a public statement explaining that this was not a world-on-fire situation. In his post, he explained that after the release of Bartender 5, he realized that as a solo developer, he could no longer support the users at the level he wanted to. He explained the sale to Applause and described them as a company sharing his vision for Bartender and that he believes they’re the right company to carry the vision forward.

He went on to apologize for the lack of communication and for any confusion or concern it may have caused.

After Ben’s post went up I dropped him a note thanking him for all of his hard work over the years. While I was working on the ScreenCastsONLINE tutorial on Bartender 5, he was very attentive to my questions and I really enjoyed working with him. He wrote back later in the day and tongue-in-cheek thanked me for finding so many bugs in Bartender.

While I’m certainly sad to lose another developer friend on the heels of Craig Scott throwing in the towel on iThoughts, I wish Ben a less stressful life now (and I hope he made bank on the sale!)

Adam Engst on TidBITS also reached out to Ben and got a bit more info on the data analysis part of the story:

He also said that he had spoken to Applause about the addition of the Amplitude digital analytics framework, which he believes they added purely “to get an idea of the user base.” He didn’t believe they thought it would cause such an uproar, which it probably wouldn’t have without the signing certificate issue drawing attention. I have also reached out to Applause and will update this article if I hear back.

I hate to quote a Reddit thread with no backup but one user requested a refund from the new owners of Bartender, and in the email back (which explained the user was outside the 4-week refund window), they also said:

We’ve removed Amplitude from the latest test build (v5.0.53).

I find it interesting that people are alarmed about this unknown company. It’s interesting because I’m willing to bet 99% of the people who used Bartender in the past had no idea it was written and supported by a solo developer. The transfer of power was certainly bungled by any objective measure, but knowing what we do now, would it be better to have a solo developer buried under a mountain of feature ideas, or a company with more than one developer working on it? Might be a disaster but we have no way of knowing right now.

I have chosen to stick with Bartender for now but I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes and ears open for anything nefarious Applause may do to this application. I simply can’t use a laptop without a tool to manage the silly number of apps I have that use menu bar items to control their interface.

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