These days most people don’t find it necessary to pay for minor Windows utilities and software. Unfortunately for companies, this directly affects their bottom line. And to compensate for losses in revenue, companies are increasing installations of crapware (also known as bloatware). For someone struggling to stay in the black, making as much as $1.50 per install can be hard to resist, despite it being at the cost of customer’s satisfaction. Even the acclaimed SourceForge by Slashdot Media has begun covertly installing crapware with the use of their “enhanced installer”.
Of course, you can still use questionable sites safely by declining installations of their numerous PUPs. You may even go so far as to utilize Unchecky, an assertive little program that will decline all those PUPs automatically. But as great as it may be, Unchecky probably won’t cover every download across the web. It’s best to remember that, when launching any installer, safety is not guaranteed.
Generally speaking, downloading software from its source is the safest option. Though there are exceptions to the rule. While Mozilla and Microsoft can be trusted to provide bloatware-free installs, the same cannot be said for either Adobe or Oracle (Java). Dependable organizations exist, just beware the links that would redirect you to another, less trustworthy site.
Start with Gizmo’s Freeware or Major Geeks for your basic utilities. Outdated interface aside, Gizmo features nice in-depth reviews of its programs. You may find AlternativeTo helpful as well – here programs earn ratings based on user feedback.
Each of the above provides links to the official websites to download your programs. You’ll find that this feature is particularly useful for bypassing Google and its ads. As you might already know, Google fails to serve as a trustworthy advisor for downloading software because it usually installs crapware of its own.
But beware: even when following a direct link, some pages may still fool you. Watch out for those inviting green DOWNLOAD buttons, notorious for covering the tiny real links. You can usually find out link’s true intentions by hovering over it with your mouse.
App stores and other options
One possible solution is to seek software from a major repository, similar to app stores by Google or Apple. Though this method isn’t fail-safe (developers tend to find ways to sneak in their crapware anyway), providers are at least attempting to quash their efforts. Though app stores are only helpful if you’re working from a mobile device, you can expect desktop software depositories to develop.
Then there are the independent storages, like AllMyApps and Ninite, which can be trusted to deliver downloads that are free of crapware. However, both of them employ downloaders and some programs are unavailable from AllMyApps. Additionally, each provider will attempt to automatically update your downloads. While this can be convenient to some, others may find them too willful.
Another fix is to go with package managers, such as those provided for Linux users. Chocolatey would be the manager to use if you’re a Windows customer, as it was created to be specifically compatible with it.
If you have a habit of downloading programs from reputable sources, this problem might be the one that you will never face. However, if you frequently find yourself in need of software without solid knowledge of its specific utility or location, things can become tricky. You’ll find that websites such as AlternativeTo, Gizmo, and Major Geeks will be especially helpful in these cases. Aside from that, your greatest risk will generally lie in things like pop-ups, prompting you to download unnecessary updates to view that popular video you’ve found.
Also consider getting a few programs that can actively defend your computer from unwanted inhabitants. Install uBlock to protect your internet browser (as opposed to AdBlock Plus) and MVPS Hosts to minimize the threat of false advertising links. For more general protection from viruses or malware, check out Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. It’s tougher on PUPs than any other anti-virus.
Just be diligent. Distributors know that no one is intentionally installing crapware, so they’re counting on catching you unawares and sneaking it through. Your own vigilance is the best protection available.