Time to outlaw crapware-laden installers

Years ago, various regulators tore strips and billions of pounds from Microsoft for bundling applications with its operating system. Today, Windows software is plagued with a far more serious bundling problem that nobody seems to want to do anything about: bundling crapware.

Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to download any kind of free software without the installer trying to sneak some other piece of junk on to your system. Installers have become almost a puzzle game within themselves, in which the user tries to figure out the consequences of pressing a button.

This afternoon, I downloaded the open-source video-capture software, CamStudio, on to my PC. This is the first screen that appears after you run the installer:

If, like me, you didn’t read the screen carefully (I’m a journalist, what do you expect?), you would probably think that this was a standard EULA screen and blithely click Accept. Indeed, I’d argue that the screen is designed specifically to resemble the boring Ts & Cs that nobody reads.

If you do press Accept, the first time you open your web browser after installation you’ll be in for a nasty shock, as some hideous piece of adware nonsense called Mega Browse fills your screen with pop-ups.

That same installer makes two other attempts to install crap onto your system, including something called Optimizer Pro, which ironically claims to “optimise your PC performance” by installing some pop-up ridden piece of scareware that won’t go away, and constantly badgers you into upgrading to a paid-for version to fix the 97,545 “errors” it claims to have found on your PC.

A video on the CamStudio site explains that the developers have been forced to add this garbage to the installer because they weren’t receiving sufficient donations for their software. Filling my PC with crud certainly doesn’t encourage me to open my wallet, either. Quite the opposite, in fact. I uninstalled CamStudio at the first opportunity and it won’t be darkening my PC again.

It’s unfair to single out CamStudio: Apple attempts to foist more software on your PC every time you download a fresh copy of iTunes; Oracle’s loathsome Java installer will plop the Ask taskbar into your browser unless you're careful to untick the box; and countless others pull similar strokes.

It’s time this insidious practice was stopped. Additional software should only be installed if the user makes an unambiguous choice to accept it, from a clearly presented screen that makes plain what’s going to end up on your PC. Anything else is tantamount to vandalism, and it should be treated in law as such.

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