11 Annoying program features and traits

Martin Brinkmann
Jul 15, 2013
Updated • Jul 16, 2013

I have installed many applications throughout the years, mostly for testing purposes. Only a fraction were reviewed here on the website, with many being rejected for one reason or the other. Some did not meet the quality requirements to be reviewed here, others would not install, did not offer anything new, or would throw other errors which disqualified them.

If you install lots of programs, you will begin to see patterns of "things" that annoy you, and this article looks at some of them. So lets get started right away:

1. Deceptive adware

While there are programs out there that are truly free, others include adware offers that are displayed to users when the application is installed on the system.

Depending on how this is implemented, users may be tricked into installing toolbars or software, or allow the program to make system modifications (usually web browser home page and search).

utorrent adware

Don't get me wrong. This is a valid way of making money with an otherwise free product, but the installer needs to display the options in a way so that users are not confused by the choices displayed to them.

2. On-load or exit popup messages

A single one-time popup message on load or on exit is not really that annoying, but when a program displays a popup every time it is run it soon gets to a point where it becomes just that.

This is even more the case if the popup is always displaying the same kind of information. If you have not reacted the first and second time, chance that you will react on the third time is not really that high.

Many antivirus solutions use popups to remind users that they should sign up for an online service of sorts. That's pretty bad if there is no way to opt-out of this without signing up for the service.

3. Automatic interface language selection with no option to change the language

Some programs use the system language to determine the language its interface is displayed to the user. That is in theory great as users do not have to modify the language manually instead, or make sure they download the correct localized version of the product.

If there is no option to change it, it is highly annoying though.  Sometimes, the detected language may get picked up incorrectly. For me, it is all about screenshots that look really bad on an English blog if they show an interface that is using a different language.

4. Forced registration

This comes in two main forms. First, some companies may force you to register an account or add an email address to a form before they show you the download link of a program that you may want to download. This is often a classic case of collecting email addresses, maybe to make a quick buck selling them or using them to push out the company newsletter.

The second form is even more annoying. While you can get around the first by using temporary email services or third party download portals, you usually cannot do anything against this form. A program may ask you to register an account before you can make use of it on your system.

It does not really matter if you have purchased it or if it is a free program, as I have seen forced registration prompts for both types. Registration makes sense at times, for instance if you need an account to use the program's functionality. Many times though, it is just a nuisance that you would like to opt-out of.

5. Simplification

Many companies, Google for example, seem to reduce the functionality and customizations of their products to make them easier to use. This can be frustrating to experienced users who would like to have more choice and options.

 6. Software agreements

The majority of users do not read software agreements. You'd probably spend most of your day reading through those agreements which is not feasible at all.  Even if you do read the full agreement, you may have troubles understanding what is really being said if you are not familiar with lawyer-speak.

7. Updates remove functionality

It happens quite often that companies remove features from their programs. Some may provide you with an alternative, like Mozilla did when it removed the Firefox status bar, while others may leave you standing in the rain with no option whatsoever.

8. Dependencies

Some programs require that you install a framework or third party program on your system before you can use it. In the best case, it is mentioned what you need or even included in the installer. In the worst, no mention of the program's dependency is made anywhere and you are left puzzled as to why the application won't start up at all.

9. No custom install

Some programs can only be installed to a hard coded directory even though you may want to install it somewhere else. This can be annoying if they install the program folder to the root of the drive, or if you want to install the application on a different drive due to space constraints.

This can also be frustrating if a program installs a desktop icon, quick launch icon, start menu folder during installation, and may add itself to the auto start of the system without option to disable those features.

10. Windows that cannot be resized

If you are using a larger font display on your system you may have experienced issues with program interfaces that do not play well with different font sizes.

Some windows cannot be resized at all even though it would make sense to implement the feature. A prime example of this is Windows' Environment Path editor.

You cannot increase the Edit System Variable window at all which makes the paths very hard to read.

11. Processes you cannot get rid of

A prime example is googleupdate.exe which gets automatically added again when you run a Google software that is making use of it. You can remove it from the Task Scheduler, but it won't do you any good as Google is adding the program back to it once you run a software like Chrome again.

Yes, you can turn off automatic updates but only via the Group Policy.


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  1. Miguel said on July 21, 2013 at 11:14 am

    I don’t really agree with 6. As ‘Shane Gowland’ has said on a previous comment, they are there for a reason. Anyway, while sometimes they are easy to read and understand (even if they are long…), more often than not, they are probably written to be difficult to understand or discourage the user to read them so they don’t discover that “third party software will be bundled…” or “the program will send this and that to us…” and such.

    I would like to add to the list of annoyances: focus stealing (already said on a previous comment) and error messages with just some weird meaningless number instead of a full explaining about what’s wrong and how can it be solved.

    Great article :)

  2. Hikl said on July 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    A software company based in Australia and another one based in Germany are notorious repeat offenders of those… Even some open-source software are victimized…

    Another annoyance not mentioned is focus stealing (which has currently no permanent way to fix it in Windows 7 and 8). Still another one is the changing of certain file associations without the user’s knowledge.

  3. Dave said on July 16, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Awesome. You just nailed it straight to the point. That is why I am fan of your blog!

  4. MikeFromMarkham said on July 16, 2013 at 6:17 am

    Lots of good comments here so far, but allow me to add two other major annoyances to the list:

    1) Programs that automatically set themselves to start with Windows when there is no need for them to be running all the time;

    2) Programs that just don’t want to let you shut them down without jumping through hoops … are you listening, folks at Skype?

  5. anakaneh said on July 16, 2013 at 4:11 am

    There’s one annoying thing I recently experienced which is not mentioned here. A program that forcefully take the default double-click open in windows explorer.

    An example: A certain media player that I only like its interface to play mp3 now can also play video, and then after I installed it, it become the default video player even though it have so many uncomfortable interface for a video player. Even their codec is not sufficient to play most of my video files.

  6. Shane Gowland said on July 16, 2013 at 3:03 am

    To be fair, the “software agreements” are there to protect the developer from ridiculous lawsuits. As a freeware developer, I can attest to the number of legal threats we receive from people who have damaged their PC or lost ‘valuable’ time out of sheer incompetence. While not legally enforceable; the agreements to serve as a nice deterrent.

  7. Jojo said on July 16, 2013 at 1:48 am

    Number 9 (No custom install) really annoys me. And even if there is a custom install, you are not always given the choice to choose an install location. Are the programmers too lazy to add the proper code?

    Google Earth drops itself into C:\Program Files, so I gave up on that program.

    And the last couple of releases of The Gimp have removed an install location option, so I have canceled updating that program also.

  8. Jeff said on July 15, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Some of my Favorites.

    * NSA KEY – skype, hotmail, outlook,
    * Microsoft IE’s API backend convenience vs security (let us turn it OFF)
    * Full Screen (including taskbar) Install with sub menus popped up underneath (old Nvidia / ASUS CPU CD)
    * Missing Description in ASM coded binaries leaving binaries with no description in Process Hacker Hello Keepass, Ghostwall and others
    * no re-sizable window – hello startup.cpl (awesome program other than that)
    * last one is buying a software and the company goes tits up. I hate that too.

  9. ozone333 said on July 15, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    I personally hate stub installers. Firefox 22 forces the stub installer on you unless you know of other ways to access the full download. I was completely disgusted with Mozilla on that move, because I was sure that they had already figured out that experienced users don’t want stub installers.

    Secondly, I’m on a cellular internet access plan where I am billed for the bandwidth that I use. I absolutely don’t want to have to be on the internet and download the same program 3 times to install it on my desktop and 2 laptop computers.

    1. Steven Fxley said on July 16, 2013 at 7:23 am

      Martin did do an article about how to get the full Firefox exe & not the stub a few days ago :

  10. Grantwhy said on July 15, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    another “Annoying program features and traits”.

    Programs that, BY DEFAULT, will download an new web browser and make it default.

    I installed a free anti-virus program for someone who is not computer literate. What I hadn’t taken into account was installation *AND* major updates for the AV program included a check box, pre-selected, to download Google Chrome and make it the default web browser which the person did not see/realise what it meant.

    So after the next major update (they just clicked the OK button to continue) the next time they went to use the internet I got a panicked “what happened to my computer/is it a virus” phone call.

  11. jasray said on July 15, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    I find the comment about Google hilarious because I mentioned that it would always show again even after ending the process or disabling the service. Martin’s response was an unequivocal, “You have spyware.” No, I never did, the scenario never changed with Google re-starting itself, but . . . it sure is nice that Martin is finally coming around to a proper understanding.

  12. Rahul said on July 15, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Well Martin, this really indicates from your article and comments the PC community is frustrated with these types of tricks. Not many novice people will care but there PC are silently suffering just like diabetes.

    I would very like to get an opinion on driver updating softwares. All those scam tools which are available online to scan those outdated divers.I have seen some people in my community to fall into this trap. Do microsoft and hardware vendors really care about users. We are shelling lots of money to get their products but they dont even update their own recommended drivers and we have to depend on third party tools and microsoft have already surrendered their hands.

  13. blue_bsod said on July 15, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Great article, but there are times when even with custom installations, and we were careful not to accept their default downloads and installs, they still download in the background without our knowledge, even though we unchecked the boxes to download them.

    At later dates if we are unaware this software has been downloaded the main program may make a call out to it if it requires it’s feature/function and the program activates and installs and next thing you know a Windows installer pops up. Those types of software’s I don’t bother using if possible.

    I agree with most, free software should be free, but many believe if you’re getting something for free, then you might as well try out a few other freeware’s/software’s while you’re trying theirs.

    I am an avid user of Revo Uninstaller … though I recently upgraded to their Pro version they changed the damn interface of the free version and the paid version. The free version was simple and easy on the eyes. The paid version looks complicated and uses an entire different GUI. Even the tools that came in the free version are not visible on the main program and can only be accessed using a sub context menu, but no longer easy one-click solution.

    I can’t really say if the Pro version is better than the free version as they both seem to do the same job with tiny exceptions like ability to categorize program list into custom headings like Utilities, Microsoft updates, Drivers, etc… There is no simple easy one-click menu on the Pro version all buttons and options are in the context menu which they seem to think made the program seem professional for some odd reason.

    But I’m going off topic, but bottom line is regardless of how hard and careful we are during program installations someone is always out to sneak one by us. Besides Google Update showing up after we do an upgrade even after we deleted / disabled it, most retail line of virus scanners / firewalls do the same thing. After each update with McAfee’s or Norton’s I’d find the program icon on the desktop even though it’s already docked in the quick launch. ARGH !!!!!

  14. Redgrave said on July 15, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Speaking of Google’s products as well as the Facebook Messenger (for Windows 7), I’m simply stunned that their tasks need to update the way they do.

    Fine, check for update. But goddamnit, every 3 hours? And then repeat it after, again and again?

    Or Adobe’s Flashplayer. Needs an update. Fine. Needs to check for another update for 24 hours, each hour. What the hell, really?

    Okay, I get that maybe the update was bad, yadda yadda, let’s make sure it’s fine after, but those tasks looks like are made intentionally do annoy users like us.

    1. Redgrave said on July 15, 2013 at 1:07 pm

      *to annoy

      1. Wayfarer said on July 15, 2013 at 1:25 pm

        Or perhaps it’s doing more online than they admit to, whether or not we’ve ticked any “do not forward data” buttons.

        Paranoid? A while ago I’d have thought so.

        After Prism, etc, I’m wondering if we haven’t been paranoid enough…

  15. Wayfarer said on July 15, 2013 at 10:28 am

    On the language front – just as annoying are applications which give you a free choice of language at installation, but install all the language files anyway. Sometimes these folders occupy more HD space than the application!

    Not necessary – few people will change their minds about the choice of language, and for those few who do, a repair option in the installer should be sufficient.

    As for Google updaters etc – I’m very close to uninstalling all Google stuff on my PC. Their software is OK, but Google seem to think they own my machine. I’m perfectly capable of keeping software up-to-date without Google treating me like an idiot, spreading their stuff itself all over my HD, and gobbling resources even when I’m not running their software.

  16. Rahul said on July 15, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Hello Martin

    Great article and this really comes from the experience, over the years software vendors have bombarded us with various tricks popups, registration, toolbar but their primary motive is that we are not paying to support its development and seriously development takes time and developer must be compensated. Truly speaking all these issues doesn’t matter to power or technical users but for the novice they dont understand what they are doing and their PC gets terrible over time.

    Recently i was browsing my friends PC and he was having 4 toolbars in IE and i asked him about this. He was not having a slightest clue from where it came all this and he rented repeatedly that his PC has gone slow.

    Though i removed all toolbars, i told him that all it requires is common sense and keep your eyes open when installing software. I happen to have a mac too and i dont know martin if you are aware, you have to drag and drop the app to applications folder, and that’s it, no toolbars , adwares atleast.

    I dont want to say that in mac app installation is better but its so easy for novice users.

    Thank you for lovely article

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on July 15, 2013 at 10:32 am

      I think the main issue is that a lot of computer users are unaware of the difference between software and third party offers. It is important to know the difference, and as you said, use common sense as well.

      I’m in doubt sometimes as well when installing software, especially if the offer is cleverly worded and really confusing because of this.

      1. Rahul said on July 15, 2013 at 12:53 pm

        Well said martin, people don’t understand in between software and third party offers and have you encountered any app where it was hell confusing to pickup third party offers?

        I have also encountered a app (sorry can’t name) with many third party offers

        1. Toolbar
        2. Online streaming software ( hell forgot the name)
        3. Registry Cleaner
        4. Free music download

        I was very careful while installing, but as soon as i installed the mere think of updating this software made me to uninstall it. I have stopped thinking how much time it has happened and started using more portable apps which are not frequently used.

  17. RG said on July 15, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I think one that belongs on a list like this is creating folder or files with generic names in the Documents folder

  18. IrrelevantElephant said on July 15, 2013 at 5:43 am

    Really, it’s not that strange when you think of it. Pop-ups, forced registration, ads, etc., are a result of you, dear customer, being the product. The developer don’t owe you anything, and since you’re obviously not willing to pay for yourself — i.e., Windows-user mentality — that’s what you’re stuck with.

    1. Steven Foxley said on July 16, 2013 at 7:34 am

      Really, it’s not that strange when you think of it. Pop-ups, forced registration, ads, etc., are a result of you, dear customer, being the product. The developer don’t owe you anything, and since you’re obviously not willing to pay for yourself — i.e., Windows-user mentality — that’s what you’re stuck with.

      What about open source programs where the developers & users work together to make the programs function better ?

    2. Midnight said on July 15, 2013 at 9:21 am

      Oh really? Does that include freeware and GOTD (Giveaways of the day)?
      Free means free and not being bombarded with all the crapware, popups and other annoyances that we, the “dear customers” do not want or did not ask for!

  19. Midnight said on July 15, 2013 at 5:18 am

    Great article, Martin and it’s very true that many program can be annoying and very confusing to many users, especially novices, who get duped into installing unnecessary and unwanted features, or the required features are missing!

    Many programs, even legit ones will install various versions of Microsoft Visual C++ and the users end up with 6-8 different versions of the program, from 2005 to 2010 in 32bit and 64 bit.

    My question is: Are these really necessary and what purpose do they serve, apart from the fact that the software vendors deem it necessary to install BEFORE their programs will install?
    I have found 2-3 different versions of C++ 2005, 2-3 different versions of 2008 and the same with 2010, some 32bit and some 64 bit.

    I have uninstalled many duplicates and found no change or no problems when running the programs, so perhaps you could explain to all the ghacks users the purpose of C++, the functionality of each version and why are so many different versions needed.

    1. Swapnil said on July 15, 2013 at 8:13 am

      About Visual C++ requirement, it is a genuine one. This is not something to promote Microsoft’s Visual Studio lineup, but is there because the application depends on it. When any application uses any Visual C++ libraries, it needs access to them for working.
      My explanation (may not be completely correct): Applications compiled with Visual C++ depend on certain libraries to work. The number of libraries depend on what functions the application uses. Most applications link to the required libraries dynamically. This means that the library (the DLL file) would be placed in a location where all applications depending on it can have access to it. It is these very DLLs which make the Visual C++ redistributable package you are required to install. Applications can also be configured to link to libraries statically, which would then copy all the required functions to the main program itself. This means that statically linked applications have considerably higher file sizes than if they were dynamically linked. Apart from this, there are other reasons to choose dynamic linking or static linking.
      However, not all dynamically linked applications require VC++ 2005, 2008, 2010 installed to function. This is because some applications may use the very old version of C++ libraries (like VC++ 6.0 libraries, released in 1998). Some VC 6 libraries are already included with Windows. Another reason maybe that the application only needs one or two Visual C++ DLLs, so the developer decides to copy that DLL file into the program’s installation folder itself.
      For the why so many versions are needed, it is because changes are made to the libraries. For example, an application dependent on VC 2005 SP1 libraries may not work correctly if you only have VC 2005 (without SP) runtime installed. This could be because some change was made to a function inside the library in SP1. So in order to ensure compatibility, different versions are sometimes installed.

      1. Swapnil said on July 15, 2013 at 9:47 am

        “For instance, Corel PaintShop Pro X5 Ultimate install Visual C++ 2005, when PSP is a current or recent program, so that can be confusing, when it should install VC 2012, at least and not an 8 year old version!”

        An up-to-date program does not mean it was built with the latest version of the development tools. There are a lot of Windows applications which are still built with VS 2005. For example, Mozilla switched to VS 2010 with its Firefox 13 only because they ran into a memory limitation while compiling. Previously it too was built with VS 2005. And there is nothing wrong with that. Considering that you can use VS 2005, and still build applications compatible with the latest version of Windows and how much time it takes to migrate complex software of this size, combined with work of adding new features or improvements every year, it’s not really required of the corporations to update to a more recent version in case there is no advantage major enough.

      2. Midnight said on July 15, 2013 at 9:18 am

        I, personally understand the requirements for VC++, but the point I was trying to make is that many programs want to install the same version(s) over and over again, not being able to detect that the item has already been installed. That can be a nuisance, if nothing else!

        I also mentioned that I have deleted several duplicates and even older versions without the programs being affected.
        For instance, Corel PaintShop Pro X5 Ultimate install Visual C++ 2005, when PSP is a current or recent program, so that can be confusing, when it should install VC 2012, at least and not an 8 year old version!

        Your post is appreciated and is certainly informative for those who need the information. :)

  20. ghostwind said on July 15, 2013 at 4:22 am

    Navigon for Android uses the system language as the application language, which is incredibly frustrating for me. I prefer to have my phone language in English, with my directions in German as they are easier for me to understand when I am driving. I do not know why they removed the feature to have the navigation spoke in other languages :/

  21. Redgrave said on July 15, 2013 at 4:11 am

    Some while back I had ZoneAlarm Free installed. An update was available so I decided to download and install it. Well… before I could download it, ZoneAlarm was asking me to change my default search engine and homepage to theirs.
    Afraid it’ll stuck, unable to change it back, I decided to try another firewall so instead of an update, ZoneAlarm got an uninstall. Heh.

    Good article, like anything you write actually, but I liked this one since I found myself in most of the situations around here, too.

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