Avoiding those unwanted free applications

Lincoln Spector

Free apps are great, but they often come with an unexpected cost — unwanted additional apps.

Depending on how you handle them, unwanted programs can be a minor annoyance — or a daunting problem. The trick is paying attention.

These days, installing a free program can feel like running a gauntlet. You go to the program’s webpage, click the big, colorful Download button … and end up with an entirely different program. You try again, only to discover you must download some sort of download manager to download the app you want.

Eventually, you install the intended software and heave a sigh of relief. But just as you’re getting back to work, one or more unwanted apps mysteriously appear on your system — those really annoying browser toolbars, for example. You then waste more time removing the unwanted software — and wonder whether that free program was worth the effort.

Like most Windows Secrets contributors, I recommend a lot of free software. Lately, many of those recommendations have warnings attached about installing these freebies. This time around, I’m not recommending anything; I’m discussing the bad that goes with the good — why it happens, what to look for, and how to keep it from becoming more than a minor irritation.

The perils of clicking free-download buttons

Potentially unwanted software comes in many forms, from mainstream applications such as Chrome to annoying browser toolbars to really sketchy software that wants to fix your system. Many people simply refer to unwanted software as malware, but that’s a bit over the top. Yes, it often gets onto your computer in a sneaky manner, and some versions do invade your privacy — noting your surfing and shopping habits for targeted advertising.

But in most cases, unasked-for software does nothing illegal. It’s also reasonably easy to avoid, and it can be uninstalled without resorting to an anti-malware tool. (However, some unwanted software takes more work to remove than simply running an uninstaller.) And occasionally, you discover you actually want the software!

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2013-06-13:

Lincoln Spector

About Lincoln Spector

Lincoln Spector writes about computers, home theater, and film and maintains two blogs: Answer Line at PCWorld.com and Bayflicks.net. His articles have appeared in CNET, InfoWorld, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.