I never thought that I had to write a guide about downloading software but recent trends have made it necessary. I'm not saying that there were not any black sheep back in the days but what is happening right now in the download industry is problematic to say the least.
I'm talking about adware installers first and foremost that many download portals use these days to distribute software. So, instead of offering a clean direct download of an application that you are interested in, you get a download wrapper instead that acts as a net installer.
When you run the installer you get one or multiple adware offers before the actual download of the program starts. As is the case with these offers, it is often easy to click on the wrong button and end up with toolbars, changed homepage, search providers and other changes in web browsers or on your system.
Reputable and popular sites such as Cnet's Download.com use it to make money. Nothing's wrong with that on first glance, but it comes at the expense of the user and sometimes also of the business who created the software.
These adware installers are not the only issue on the other hand.
Sites that use adware installers
The following sites use adware installers for some or all downloads offered on their sites. Some offer direct downloads as well while others may not.
- Cnet's Download.com
If you know of another site that is not listed here leave a comment below and I will check it out and add it to the list.
You can spot wrappers fairly easily. Not only do they use the same icon at all times, they also add text to the file name. On Download.com for instance, the file name begins always with cbsidlm- so that you can spot it easily. It is also using the same icon and has the same size (907 Kilobyte).
How to download software
Whenever you download a program, you should use a priority list to determine where to download it from.
- The author's or company website.
- A clean software repository.
- Unclean repositories
- Other sites
The author's website is the best location most of the time. You download the program from a trusted source -- the authority when it comes to the program -- which is always great. Plus, you may get additional information about the program that other sites may not offer.
That does not mean that you should blindly trust those sites as they may offer different versions of the same program as well. KC Softwares for instance, makers of popular programs such as SUMo or VideoInspector, offer four different downloads for most of their programs. There is a full version with adware, one without Relevant Knowledge, a lit version, and a portable version.
Tip: When it comes to different versions being offered, it is usually better to download the portable version of a program as they won't include adware installers and offers.
There is another issue that you may experience while downloading from author sites directly. Some display a lot of ads on the download pages which often display download offers as well.
This too can be highly confusing and may lead to miss-clicks.
This can be the case if the author's site is not available anymore, or if downloads are not hosted on it but only on third-party sites.
A search may help you find download locations easily, but beware of deceptive advertisement in search engines that may make it seem as if you can download the program from the sites they link to.
As you can see on the screenshot above, there are three ads on top of the link to the legitimate website where you can download the Firefox web browser.
If you can distinguish between ads and organic results then you should not run into any issues in this regard, but if you always trust what the search engine displays, then you may be in trouble.
Further reading / information
If you are new to the trickery and user deception in the online world, then you may find the Dark Patterns video useful. It is a half-hour long presentation that highlights how companies trick users using design.