We’ve been complaining for a long time that there’s no safe place to download freeware where the downloads are free of bundled add-ons that usually redirect your browser to something other than what you chose. And even Microsoft is bundling extra installers into their own download site to redirect your browser to Bing if you don’t uncheck the box.
Before we get started, we want to point out that we’re not saying that Bing is the worst thing in the world (although there’s a reason that only 1.8 percent of our readers get here using Bing). And we’re not saying that this is malware or crapware or anything like that. It’s their product, they can promote it how they want.
And it’s not like they are the only big company doing this. Oracle is bundling the awful Ask toolbar with Java, Google has paid people to bundle Chrome and other products into other freeware, Avast is bundling Dropbox into their installer, and pretty much everybody is bundling something somewhere. So we don’t want to unfairly pick on Microsoft here.
We’re just trying to illustrate that the entire Windows freeware ecosystem is chock-full of bundled software that requires unchecking to opt out, and almost all of it is designed to steal market share away from Google — whether that’s Trovi hijacking your browser and pointing it at Bing, or Spigot pointing your browser to Yahoo, or the terrible Ask toolbar pointing your browser to themselves. Bundled software is all based on the (accurate) assumption that most users won’t read before clicking, which is the same thing as tricking people.
These tactics are terrible, and when we see Microsoft using them, we have to wonder if all hope is lost.
And in this case, if you don’t uncheck the box on the Microsoft download site, and then you accidentally click the wrong download file, your browser is instantly changed to use Bing and MSN as the home page and a Chrome extension is immediately installed to change your home page and search settings.
The Windows ecosystem smells funny.
Microsoft Bundles Bing and MSN with All Their Downloads by Default
If you head to the Microsoft download center and try to get something like the PowerPoint viewer, you’ll be presented with a big red download button that makes it look like you’re about to download what you want. We’re going to ignore the fact that PowerPoint means meetings, and meetings are awful.
Once you click that button, you’re taken to the Microsoft Recommends screen, which has the MSN / Bing setting switcher checked by default. The problem is that if you aren’t paying attention and you just trust Microsoft, you might assume that the first thing on the left that has a checkbox is what you actually wanted to download and click Next.
The lesson here is clear: Don’t ever click anything anywhere without reading, even on a site that you trust.
And yes, just like every other installer, if you actually read everything on the screen, you’d never leave that box checked. If that’s your argument, you’ve missed the point.
It’s definitely not as bad as some of the examples we’ve shown from other vendors, where they are using much more tricky setup screens that are really confusing. But selecting something you didn’t want by default is designed to trick people — if they didn’t pre-select that box, almost nobody would ever choose it. And that’s the whole point.
Once you click that Next button, you’ll be presented with the download, which is where the next problem shows up. If you’re using Google Chrome, it automatically blocks sites from downloading multiple files. And the first file that downloads, which as a regular user you’d expect would be the PowerPoint Viewer that you meant to download… isn’t. The first thing that downloads is the Bing browser redirector. You’ve got to click Allow in order to get what you actually wanted.
Once you click Allow, you’ll be presented with the second download. But that’s just not how it should work at all.
Firefox will prompt you to download each of the files separately, but the really interesting thing is the behavior that Internet Explorer has on this site, because after giving you the PowerPoint download, it totally blocks the popup from Microsoft for the Bing download. Only after clicking “Allow once” will you be presented with the option for the Bing download.
Normally we could chock this up to just the difference between how different browsers work, but in this case Microsoft has billions and billions of dollars to throw at making their sites work the way they should in all browsers.
They’ve also got billions of dollars to spend on marketing and improving Bing so that it’s something people actually want to use.
The Browser Setting Changes?
Once you run that DefaultPack.exe file, Internet Explorer will be instantly changed to use MSN as the home page, and Bing as the search engine. That’s not really surprising, but it’s annoying that there’s no prompt at all.
If you’re using Google Chrome, you’ll be presented with a message once the Bing downloader tries to install the extension, and you can easily click the Remove from Chrome option. Even if you did allow it, Chrome will prompt you twice later on to make sure that you really wanted it. So it’s not that big of a deal in practice, just in principle.
What is a big deal is that permissions list on this extension. Why on earth does this extension need to be able to manage your apps, extensions, and themes?
If you’re using Firefox, for some reason Microsoft just doesn’t care. The home page and search engine don’t get changed at all, even if you’ve got Firefox set as your default browser. In unrelated news, Firefox gets paid by Yahoo to use their search as the default engine, and Yahoo is just a rebranded version of Bing.
And again, we all know that you can opt out easily by reading before you click. But why does it need to be that way?
We just wish all this browser search engine fighting would stop. We wish the freeware industry wasn’t completely full of awfulness and trickery. We wish you could recommend software to people without them getting infected with something that will slow down their computer or worse. We’d also like a pony. And maybe some cookies. And to go back in time and tell the Seahawks not to throw that pass.