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Posted on April 3rd, 2014 by Barry Collins

Time to outlaw crapware-laden installers

Windows UI

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:

Camstudio 1

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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29 Responses to “ Time to outlaw crapware-laden installers ”

  1. ian Says:
    April 3rd, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Check out the IZarc installer for the worst example I’ve ever seen. Five or six attempts to install crapware, each one using a different method.

    Not sure about making it law though – often (as with IZarc) it’s the “price” we pay for getting free software.

     
  2. Dave Marchant Says:
    April 3rd, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    I totally agree. I find my IT Team are spending more and more time unravelling the junk that now comes through even with ‘reputable’ software – even Firefox is at it now.

     
  3. Chris Says:
    April 3rd, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Barry I could not agree more, one wonders if the vendor is based in the UK, you could send them a bill for your time and effort for removing crapware, I can not think of any other industry where the vendor gives you “extras” that waste your time, so yes it should be illegal to bury “extras” all headline applications should state clearly if another application is a prerequsit to allow instalation.

     
  4. Laurent Says:
    April 3rd, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    It’s just an alternative income model, similar to ad supported services. If you are not paying for the software, I think it’s a bit rich to criticise the practice.

     
  5. Tim Says:
    April 3rd, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    @Chris
    How about DVDs and BlueRays with their silly anti-piracy message and trailers.
    @Laurent
    It is widely assumed that a lot of open source software is written by students, and hence is generally funded by the US and European tax payers or the student’s parents.

     
  6. Mark Newton Says:
    April 4th, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Totally agree Barry. My clients are often phoning wondering why their search engine in their browser has changed or some other modification to their computer. Major companies have started doing this not just the more obscure, surely Adobe and the like don’t need the extra revenue? Sure you can opt not to install these ‘extras’ but with phrases like ‘cancel this installation’ users will assume it will cancel the install of the product that they wanted.

     
  7. David Bradbury Says:
    April 4th, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Is it time to abandon the illusion completely free software and for the authors to utilise some sort of micropayments model? Most people must have either a mobile phone or paypal or something that a micropayment could be charged to without incurring hefty banking charges? A couple of examples. Ninite.com is a great time saver & I’d happily pay £0.1 every time I used it, same for teamviewer but their paid for versions are too expensive for individuals. Better to have thousands people paying small fees than a handful of paying commercial users? As for iTunes, adobe reader, java – no I wouldn’t pay for them or expect the bundled crap as the companies involved make their money from commercial software or services.

     
  8. Peter Says:
    April 4th, 2014 at 9:54 am

    There’s a programme called Unchecky that might be just the job in preventing this kind of thing particularly if you know people who are inclined to blithely tick boxes without reading them (might save you and them a lot of hassles). Personally I am wise to this practice but even so was nearly caught out with a recent install of Imgburn which needless to say is now gone from my system.

     
  9. David Says:
    April 4th, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Adobe is the one which I find most annoying – trying to install Google Chrome or some McAfee scanner every time you install Adobe Reader or Flash Player.

     
  10. Clive Pugh Says:
    April 4th, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    @David
    Not so unexpected as it is the only way McAfee would sell they crap antivirus software.

     
  11. ElectricPics Says:
    April 4th, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    I also installed CamStudio last week but only just noticed the greyed-out Decline button before I hit Accept. I understand people have to make money but this method of installing crapware is sharp practice. If you want to sell ads then make like a mobile app – show them in the program window.

     
  12. Mike Walsh Says:
    April 5th, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Download.com (run by CNET) is a fairly safe source of software but even there it’s very easy to install crapware by mistake. You say you want to download something and the next screen has at least a couple of large Download buttons. Either only one of those is for the product you want (typically the one you don’t see at once) or your product is already downloading in the meantime and thus you actually can ignore all of those download buttons.
    Nowadays I watch out on that site but I’ve been fooled more than once.

     
  13. Steve Cassidy Says:
    April 6th, 2014 at 10:29 am

    I guess the underlying problem here is payment. Iäd very happily pay App Store prices for most of the utilities currently sold as free or repackaged in this horrible manner, but nobody seems to want to go through the bureaucracy and payment-processing hassles inherent in being the organisation that sets it all up. And even the App Stores themselves are now being corrupted by developers inclined to an economy with the truth when it comes to the footprint, pricing model, and impact of their funky game, emty company logo, or replacement for standard system feature that happens to be slightly hard to find.

     
  14. David Wright Says:
    April 7th, 2014 at 9:17 am

    CNet and Chip (Germany) are dreadful for hanging unwanted crapware on the end of installers.

    My future brother-in-law installed a new Windows notebook last week and copied a lot of documents from his old machine. By the time I got there, he had installed 5 different click-jackers!

    The old PC had around 20.

    Malwarebytes found about 30 – 50 entries on the new machine and over 200 on the old machine.

    After cleaning the old machine (2007 XP machine) it was running fast again and he could have saved the investment in the new machine!

     
  15. John Fairhurst Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    @David Marchant, It’s not Firefox/Mozilla doing naughty things with their installer (or it wasn’t a couple of months ago) but people offering Firefox from their site along with a load of other stuff that was less than useful IME.

     
  16. Kevin S Says:
    April 10th, 2014 at 9:14 am

    +1 for using ninite for installing this sort of software.

    Ninite seems to cut out most of the crap at source (download.com to me has gone the way of the devil).

    I sympathise with developers because I very rarely get round to donating … actually Barry you’ve done some developers a favour as I’m going to do just that now.

     
  17. Martin Kay Says:
    April 10th, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Yes very annoying and disastrous for those that aren’t too familiar with their ins and outs of their system. My partners Dell laptop attempts to hijack every search with an unwanted domain offering supply of the required app plus all the other bits of ‘crap’.

     
  18. Robert Says:
    April 10th, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Yes its now out of hand, but who does Joe Public put pressure on to outlaw the practice? We need names and sddresses, as it should be illegal to secrete anything onto a PC without the owners consent.

     
  19. Tom Cobbly Says:
    April 11th, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    @Robert. This is the crux of the matter. We can whine all we want, but unless there is a tangible force against them, the crapware distributors will just continue and there is nothing anyone can do about it, apart from learning to be vigilant.

     
  20. Patrick R. Says:
    April 15th, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Well said, Barry. These attempts to trick unwary users into installing spyware and useless junk are loathsome. I expect such tactics from purveyors of dubious freeware, but it’s insupportable from the likes of Oracle and Adobe. Time to outlaw this sort of deceit.

     
  21. Connor Says:
    April 17th, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    You are so right Barry but I think that we’re just asking for a surprise if we expected “free” software to not install crapware.

    I downloaded this free app from Techradar and while it didn’t install any actual software, they added several website links to the application folder Classic Shell start menu that were so crap it was bordering on the edge of spam. All this without being mentioned on the installer.

    And the Techradar installer also tried to get me to get one piece of crap and a link to Amazon. But Techradar makes you VERY aware of that and gives you the explicit option of saying no.

    That brings me to the other half of the story. Nothing is really free and software makers only do this to supply the software for free. Sure you can get good free software like Scratch without any hassle but that’s very rare. Even Adobe needs to do it to supply the software for free.

    I do not think this practice is loathsome and needs to be outlawed, app publishers just make the installation process more understandable! Most of you are being very harsh and I’d rather uncheck a few boxes and decline a few additional apps and links then have to pay for some software. Wouldn’t you?

     
  22. Melissa Christie Says:
    April 22nd, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    It’s amazing how much money is being made by crapware/bundleware publishers, just by knowing people don’t have time to read all that small print! It is very unfortuante for those who are publishing clean and legit free software, which is out there.

     
  23. Rwandoes Says:
    May 8th, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Let them make you install whatever pays enough for the free application you want, as long as you can easily and painlessly uninstall what you consider more a damage then a welcome addition. In that case they can say they made you try at least. To make those apps cling on for dear life with all sort of register twist is a crime,. just like any other form of abduction or hijacking.

     
  24. cheap shopping bags Says:
    May 27th, 2014 at 9:51 pm

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  25. Maximilian Says:
    May 27th, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    This doesn’t mean to me. Well she’s in there,
    you’ll portable vaporizer be replacing me. I watched as Quinn sighed and leaned back against the counter as
    he was doing this? In reality, fictional or not?
    And to learn life lessons for this? I called the Archaic Ones or the policeman we portable vaporizer don’t want to be
    good, and I’m a Kali worshiper, I was going to bed. And every now and in fact surrounded by these people would not
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  26. davidcourt Says:
    May 28th, 2014 at 11:25 am

    We go through them manually. Very fun…

     
  27. Jonny Says:
    June 20th, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    @Ian re:IZarc
    The worse part which you didn’t even mention about the IZarc installer is that it is now IMPOSSIBLE to opt-out of whatever crapware they’re bundling without canceling the IZarc install! I won’t be using IZarc anymore!
    And some of these add-ons are extremely difficult if not nearly impossible to truly get rid of. They don’t have uninstallers, they install to unconventional locations, they have some sort of autorun mechanism that slips past CCleaner & similar software. At this point the program has basically crossed the threshold to being a virus.
    Now THAT really should be illegal!!! Come on! Why would the developer allow such insidious crap to polute their handywork?

    @Tom Cobbly
    Unfortunately, you are absolutely correct. There is no-one who could, nor any way to outlaw all the crap-bundleware.

    BUT I think another software solution should be possible… Something that somehow filters and/or audits/logs every change that’s made to the system during an install. This monitoring program could present a report/log after the install finishes with options to remove or undo any part of the process.

     
  28. Tommie Says:
    July 8th, 2014 at 10:11 pm

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  29. xpf Says:
    August 11th, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    I got the same crapware probably in the same way (deceptive EULA page, as shown here) by installing the FileZilla FTP client through the official download link from SourceForge.

    I think that this practice is already illegal in most countries, perhaps not by penal, but by civil law. It is deception, intrusion, manipulation of computer systems without consent and actual damage, when employees get harassed with unwanted toolbars, hijacked search engines and start pages, or when they’re flooded with popups or their system suddenly restarts in the middle of their work, caused by some “optimizer”.

    And, of course, EULAs and other “contracts” using deceptive fine print are usually void, resulting in neither an agreement to the installation of unwanted software, nor any other commitment, such as keeping the software running or future payments.

    So it requires people who spend efforts and money to sue these malware distributors.

     

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