It’s been more than a year since we drew attention to the crapware regularly foisted upon unsuspecting users by pretty much every big freeware site, including the venerable SourceForge. Since then, a few sites–including SourceForge themselves–have started cleaning up their act.
Most freeware download sites still use shady tactics, unfortunately, cramming their own installers full of unwanted software and misleading advertisements down your throat in order to make a buck. But now that a few are getting better, we wanted to give credit where credit is due–so consider this an ongoing list of sites that have made things right.
At the end of January 2016, SourceForge was sold to a company named BIZX, LLC. The new owners immediately began cleaning up SourceForge, terminating the controversial “DevShare” program that wrapped open-source installers in junkware, sometimes against the wishes of their developers. “We want to restore our reputation as a trusted home for open source software, and this was a clear first step towards that. We’re more interested in doing the right thing than making extra short-term profit,” they wrote in their announcement.
SourceForge appears to be a trustworthy place to download open-source software from once again.
The second most important problem–misleading “Download” buttons that push you to third-party websites offering open-source project installers wrapped in junkware–also appears to have improved. We haven’t seen any of those ads on the new SourceForge.
Tucows is another old freeware download site that succumbed to the temptation of packing its installers with junkware. Back when we examined a variety of download sites, we called the Tucows software download site “an abomination [that] should be removed from the Internet” and found that it was probably worse than even Download.com.
On May 3, 2016, Tucows announced that it, too, was done with that practice. Tucows isn’t just a software download site–the company also makes money from selling domain names, cell phone service, and fiber Internet.
“For a while, we were struggling to walk away from the revenue,” Tucows’ Michael Goldstein told us. “But we’ve been growing like crazy the last couple of years (from wonderful customer-focused, subscription services) and we realized it’s no longer worth the money to be associated with that nonsense. We considered just shutting the download site off but decided it felt more right to keep it running (with just a fraction of people’s time here) as a sort of public service.”
So there you have it: Tucows doesn’t offer the junk anymore. There’s just a small bit of advertising for other Tucows services, like domain registration.
Download.com finally ended its “CNET Installer” program sometime in early 2016, although it did this without any public announcement. You can now visit Download.com and you’ll get direct links to download programs without any additional junkware.
This website still has a little ways to go, however. We’d like to see them clean up their advertising and getting rid of ads with misleading green “Download” buttons that encourage visitors to click the wrong thing. But Download.com deserves credit for abandoning its much-hated installer.
While we’re at it, we should highlight a few high-quality freeware download sites that never sold out their users, too.
FossHub is an excellent download site that many projects switched to when they were abandoning SourceForge. It’s a download hosting site for free and open-source software (or “FOSS”). FossHub has never bundled any junkware with its downloads. Download pages just have a single unobtrusive advertisement to help pay the bills–that’s it. FossHub remains trustworthy site.
Ninite is also great. For awhile, it was the best centralized place to get Windows freeware safely, and nothing’s changed there. Among the big general freeware download sites, Ninite was the only one that won’t try to force junk onto your computer–after all, FossHub is just for open-source software.
Ninite offers an especially useful tool to quickly download and install software on a new PC, and it has never bundled junkware. Ninite even lets you install software that normally includes its own, developer-added junkware and skips it for you. For example, you can use Ninite to install Java without it offering Java’s usual installer junkware.
These aren’t the only places you can download software safely, of course. Many software projects offer downloads on their own websites and these downloads can be clean, although many software projects make money by adding junkware to their own downloads.
GitHub is generally fine–for open-source projects hosted on GitHub, you can download the latest software builds without any junkware. But GitHub is more about code hosting, and the download experience for users who aren’t developers isn’t as user-friendly.
For big freeware download sites, FossHub, Ninite, SourceForge, and Tucows seem to be the ones that aren’t out to get you. We’d love to see more download sites follow SourceForge and Tucows, but they’ll need business models that allow them to make money without “potentially unwanted programs.”
This list may look small now, but hopefully this trend continues, and more sites start cleaning up their acts and doing what’s best for their users. Our goal is to keep this list up to date, so if and when more sites cut the crap(ware), we’ll add them to this post. So stay tuned.