We’ve been banging on about the horrific and broken Windows software ecosystem for a long time now. Rather than installing applications from Download.com and every other freeware site, you should just switch to Linux if you want to download freeware safely.
The Toxic Windows Freeware Ecosystem
There’s a systemic problem in the Windows software ecosystem. It’s not just a handful of websites, or a handful of bad programs. Practically every piece of freeware is stuffed with junk. If you try to avoid freeware sites and just Google something like “VLC download,” you’ll be pointed straight at adware-filled junk installers too.
This is why we hate recommending software downloads to our readers. Worse yet, even browser extensions are getting sleazy. Yes, paid software can do horrifically nasty things, too. But the sheer lack of people paying for software on Windows has led developers to resort to tricks like these just to make any money at all off the software they’ve created.
The whole Windows software ecosystem — and its culture — is broken and damaged. As the owner of MajorGeeks told us, he’d have to shut the website down if he removed all the programs filled with junkware because there’d be almost nothing left.
Given all these problems, it’s little wonder Windows users are gravitating to web apps so they have to install as few desktop applications on their PCs as possible.
The Happy Culture of Open-Source Software on Linux
Linux has its problems, and it’s not ideal for anyone. Want to play every single PC game that comes out? You need Windows. Need a specific desktop program that only runs on Windows? Yeah, you need Windows by definition — although you could always run those programs in a virtual machine if you don’t mind the additional complexity.
But Linux is an ideal place to be for freeware-lovers. Do you love downloading programs and testing them out? Seriously, switch to Linux now. Linux Mint is very good, although Ubuntu is definitely popular — and there are lots of other Linux distributions, too.
Software installation works differently on Linux. Rather than a web browser with horrific freeware download sites, misleading advertisements in search results, and then application installers that try to trick you, Linux offers a veritable wonderland of ease-of-use and safety.
To install a program on Linux, you open up the “software installer” desktop application, search for the name of a program you want to install, and click Install. The software installer then downloads the program from a safe, centralized software repository curated by your Linux distribution. There’s no installer to click through, so there are no tricks to avoid. And most of the software on Linux is open-source and completely free to use.
You could also just browse the software installer by category or search for programs by type, finding safe programs to use that won’t try to trick you and avoiding all the garbage on the web.
Seriously, we can’t repeat this enough. You don’t need to search in a web browser, you have access to a huge database of trusted and vetted software, and none of it will push junk onto your machine.
Let’s Compare That…
Let’s take a step back and compare the situation on Windows vs. Linux. This is fromt the perspective of someone who likes installing lots of freeware, of course — if you confine yourself to a web browser and a handful of safe, known-good programs (like the limited number available from the awesome-and-trustworthy Ninite), you’ll do better on Windows.
On Windows, developers are desperate to make money from their creations and have to do it by packing in junkware. Freeware sites and misleading advertisements want to piggy-back off freeware and pack in their own junkware. You have to dodge all this using a web browser and try to find the handful of safe programs that exist, although many official installers are just packed full of junk. You then have to carefully install the application, avoiding all the junk. And some nasty installers will install junk even if you decline their offers, so you really need to do some research on the reputation of the program and the download site itself first. Yikes.
On Linux, the open-source community happily provides applications for free. Due to the nature of open-source software, you won’t find any junkware in these. Your Linux distribution collects all the programs together in a safe, centralized location, and you can install them from a desktop application. You don’t need to open a web browser at any point. You can install all the free software you want to from your Linux distribution’s software repositories without any worrying or risk. You won’t have to click through any obnoxious software-installation wizards, either.
So there you have it. Yes, you can make the argument that free software on Linux may sometimes be less polished than the freeware you might get on Windows, and that’s sometimes true — though not always. But if you’re interested in using a lot of software you can download for free without your computer being abused, the Linux software community is offering it to you.
The open-source software community wants you to use their software, while developers on Windows are desperate to make a buck, no matter how hostile it is to their users. Vote with your feet.
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