A Cautionary Word About Installing Programs (Archive)
(Editor’s note: This is certainly valid advice, but this old post is light on explanations or examples. Look for a newer post.)
It’s been a while since I last posted on my blog, but today I was reminded of something that I wanted to write about. This is something most generally called crapware, or unwanted programs that piggyback along on other program’s installers and then install themselves on your computer. Well-known specimens include toolbars that only serve to provide completely useless “features” such as slowing down your browser. These programs can also change your homepage and make your browser unstable.
How they get onto your computer is a good question. Programs cannot generally install themselves without some sort of user initiation, but I doubt you planned to go out and intentionally install, say, the Ask.com toolbar. So, how did it get into your browser and why is your default search engine now Ask? These programs usually get hidden into the installers of other, not-so-great programs like video downloaders and fake PC cleaners. Side note: PC cleaning software is almost always a scam, especially if there’s a free trial version.
An exception to this rule is CCleaner by Piriform, which is great. (Ed: Not anymore.) If the installer has options for “normal install” and “advanced install”, this may mean that the normal install automatically selects the options to install sponsored crapware and the advanced install process will give you options to deselect these unwanted programs. Usually the deselection options are intentionally confusingly written to try to trick you into installing the crapware.
The moral of the story is: Always try to install legitimate, well-known software. If you need to install something else, watch the install process carefully.