Ask dotTechies: What are your thoughts on third party offers/advertisements bundled with program installers?

Day by day we are seeing an increasing number of program installers coming bundled with third party offers/advertisements. Why? Simply because these third party offers/advertisements allow developers to take advantage of a business model that differs from the traditional make-money-by-selling-software mindset and enters the freeware-but-ad-supported system (shareware/commercial software that have third party offers/advertisements are just plain pathetic). After all, freeware developers are only human and they also desire to make money – can’t really blame them for that. The problem is adverts in program installers are notoriously unpopular among users.

Users have come to accept adverts on websites (although some users do block them, most realize that ads are needed to keep a website alive). So, then, why are ads in programs so hated? Isn’t the principle the same – adverts in program installers are needed to keep freeware alive, right? Well the root cause of the problem lies in the fact that adverts bundled in installers started off with useless – and often dangerous and malicious – programs being offered in the ads. While this is now changing, as developers realize that advertisements in programs are potentially a good money maker they are trying to get legitimate advertisers instead of undesirable ones, that sinking feeling about adverts being malicious in installers is still there among users. Plus it doesn’t help that many users often accidentally and unknowingly install third party/unrelated programs because many adverts are opt out instead of opt in.

So, then, that brings me to the main question of this article: What are your thoughts on third party offers/advertisements bundled with program installers? Do you support and encourage them, do you dislike and discourage them, do you dislike but accept them, etc.? To get the discussion started, I will share my opinion first.

As a website owner, I realize how critical advertisements are as a source of revenue. So, I support adverts in software installers (for freebie or freeware software only – not paid/commercial software) simply because freeware/freebie software developers need a source of revenue also. However, the software offerings in the adverts need to be

  • 100% legitimate (not malicious or harmful in any way, shape, form, or fashion)
  • Opt in (the best way to do this is to have neither “Yes install this” or “No don’t install this” selected by default – let the user select which one they want)
  • Clearly labeled as not being a part of the software the user originally downloaded to install

That said, what is your opinion in the matter? Feel free to share in comments below.

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  • HappyUser

    I agree completely with your opinions, Ashraf.
    Thanks for your work!

  • Steelers6

    I have to say that I hated them but, with so many software companies doing this I have become used to it.

    Hate is not good anyway so, as long as I can opt out easily and there is no trickery involved – I’ll play the game albeit I should NOT have to do so when buying software.
    Long story short they won’t stop doing this so I’ll keep opting out.
    Have a Great Weekend and Vidimo Se!

  • Maestro

    I’d only add that things like Adobe’s Acrobat Reader, or Flash, or Sun’s Java, that, while free, exist only to drive the market to buy actual products from Adobe/Sun/Etc., shouldn’t bundle stuff.  They made a decision to base their business model on that software on a “free plugin, paid authoring tools” basis, and if that’s no longer tenable, well, maybe they should stop supporting it.

    Basically I find this offensive because the companies are trying to profit off of you TWICE.  Once by using you as yet another user out there with the plugin installed to try to convince people to buy their software, and then again as a way to get some money from a bundled offer.  They want their cake and eat it too, and it’s really disgusting.  (Oh, and if you actually do buy their offerings, they’re shooting for profiting off you three times since then you’re an actual customer too, as well as a statistic to drive more sales.)

  • It has been rather annoying that updaters for legitimate programs now come with nuisance-ware included.  The Sun Java virtual machine is one example, it started with something from Norton and has evolved from there.  I do not mind as much with freeware but the automatic opt-in really keeps you on your toes.  The thing that gets to me is software that comes with baggage but gives you no option to decide whether it gets installed or not.  It would be nice if Microsoft put out some tool through the sysinternals guys that would analyze installers and let you know what the software came with.  This is what we need to really have options to get to the root of the problem.  As for freeware authors I do not mind but wish they would follow some general rules like what Ashraf outlined so common users would not have to deal with these issues as much.

  • Reality Check

    I agree with Ashraf’s conclusion.  I hate it when developers of BOTH freeware & paid programs try to sneak in unwanted toolbars, etc during an installation.

    If the advertising company doesn’t allow a developer to clearly show in an installer that a 3rd party software isn’t part of the desired program, can a developer add a page to the installer process that informs users that the next page offers optional programs from supporters? 

  • Student26

    Freeware programmers put a lot of their time into creating programs for others to use for FREE! It is not wrong for them to want monetary compensation. Bundling toolbars and such is fair game as long as there is a clear option to remove the additional software.
    Anything that installs toolbars or shortcuts without the option to remove the applications during the setup is irreparable to a user’s trust and deserves to be scorned. Few people actually read the EULA so owners of the bundled software can get screen time on many computers.
    If anyone is too lazy to research the freeware they’re installing, or in a hurry to try a piece of new software,  I’d recommend EULAlyzer. It scans text from a EULA for key words that notify the user if the EULA contains suspicious terms, not only pertaining to bundled toolbars and shortcuts.
    Of course, it is best to know what you are installing!

  • JonE

    For the most part I have no problem with third party software bundled with my download assuming there is an option to side step the installation of that third party software.  I have rarely seen legitimate software bundled; it’s usually some kind of toolbar and I have a basic distrust for any toolbar including Google.  I’ve never had one that wasn’t a problem sooner of later.
    I understand that the dev’s of a particular software and the devs of the bundled software are both getting something out of the deal so I don’t have a huge problem with it as far as that goes, but when I see things like Ask and such bundled it makes me wonder what else the dev is will to do.
    It makes you wonder just how FREE their software really is.  Third party bundled software makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, but for the most part I don’t have a huge problem with it as long as you can untick it and it doesn’t install anything you didn’t ask for.

  • Toolbars!!! I hate toolbars!!!

    I find the bundling of these toolbars very offensive.  It not freeware if these things are attached. toolbar seems to be the most prolific one out the there.  Some of the best freeware are now bundled with it (such as software from Piriform [CCleaner, Defraggle, Recuva and Speccy]) and there are more and more jumping on this bandwagon.  I know that most have and opt out button, but some do not.

    With the toolbar comes checkask.exe, which tries to update the toolbar all the time.

    I know the the freeware authors need to get some revenue somehow, but I ask them to rethink the bundling appoach.

  • Chris

    I foresee a larger problem for the developers who adopt this practice. If you have a good product and bundle install it with some less than reputable product what image do users have of your product? I blame Microsoft squarely for the click click click installers that got people to be complacent about not reading what is actually being done with the install. (Do you wish to install? click Are you sure? click Tired of reading these instructions? click etc…) and the indecipherable legal language of the EULA. There is no magic bullet to fix this issue, except for users to call companies on this practice. Email the developers and express the harm they place their product in by bundling this stuff in.  Create an environment that discourages this practice by boycotting the product, posting a “warning” about the bundled software on forums and sites like cnet etc… That being said, there is another party to blame and that is the undereducated public who repeatedly click through install software. We have a responsibility to protect ourselves and others from this “marketing” behavior. Sorry for the rant, just my two cents. (Yes, I repair comps daily and clean them up from this mess.)

  • cp

    As everybody mentioned here, I too agree 100% on what Ashraf’s take on 3rd party bundled specially in freewares. But to lessen the chance of getting all these additional obtrusive installers, one must take caution and responsible to NOT HAVING THE HABIT of click and click, instead, READ carefully so you know what exactly you are clicking. By doing this, none of this browser toolbars would get in to your system. I understand the developers of programs need to earn to sustain and continue with their programs future delevopment, that is why they include such advertisements and toolbars to their programs. Hope i share some clarification here.

  • blue

    Ultimately, most who provide a service will only do so for reward so IF programmers aren’t going to charge for their work, this is the alternative and I don’t have a problem with that.

    If you don’t like  it, you can always uncheck the install box or, if you mistakenly accept it, uninstall later. Opt in, opt out, it doesn’t make a difference. If you want to see the program development continue, take steps to see that the developer gets paid.

  • David

    I agree with the principle, provided it’s also easy to uninstall any 3rd party toolbar or software, and the consequences of accepting such 3rd party software are made clear.

    I utterly detest deception- for example, where you expect a license agreement for the software you’re installing, but are presented with one for the 3rd party software; the general appearance of the prompt to ‘accept’ is what you expected for the program…

    One I met recently had completely mixed accepting the license for the software with accepting the 3rd party offering- one checkbox. To install the software without the 3rd party add-on, you had to reject the program’s license too! 

  • Dr Nitin

    Welcome back Friend,
    I agree 100%
    The opt out option must be there.
    Dr Nitin

  • chinaguy

    I pretty much agree with ashraf. Although I dislike it I think it is necessary. And with one exception I have never been forced to install something unwanted on my computer. That time I could easily remove it :-). I do not remember at any time not noticing the third party software that was bundled with an installer and accidentally installing it. I am usually pretty careful about things like that.

  • Install??! I’ve switched to only Free Software. If it doesn’t come with complete source code, I don’t use it.
    (I’m talking to you too, Ubuntu.)

  • citizenearth

    I am not so sure about the ‘100% legitimate.’ I mean, who can be sure of that unless you know it beforehand.

  • I feel that having third party installers bundled with a program is an acceptable way of getting revenue. I do not like the opt-out idea, but if you keep your eyes out when installing software, you shouldn’t get tricked into installing anything you don’t want. Of course, you should be watchful all the time you are on you’re PC, so you can remain safe.

  • While I agree with you, I do think that making all software open source would solve this problem, along with many others.

  • Mr.Dave

    I don’t mind ads at all during an install, or even when a program opens, as long as they’re somewhat related to the program I’m running, and they don’t force me to wait more than a few seconds.  Installation choices should always be OPT-IN, or like Ashraf’s idea of no pre-checks on “Yes I want it” or “No I don’t”.  It’s way too easy for my mouse to register two clicks instead of one and always at the most inopportune moments!
    Another thing I would like to see:  a way to get an explanation of any optional software before I decide.  The one-liner next to the checkbox RARELY says what the program will do, or a full product/company name, or whether it’s required for some functionality in the program I’m installing, or whether I can easily uninstall it.  And if I don’t have time to explore things right at that moment, why couldn’t the installer let me change my mind later?
    Somehow I don’t think I’ve EVER missed anything good just by avoiding these extra installs, but I might be willing to try some if I knew what I was getting into.

  • I don’t like it, but I do realize it helps reduce costs of the applications

  • monta

    I hate but accept

  • zugshad

    As most have already said, I agree with you.. I think the adverts in freebies/freeware is ok, so long as it is an Opt-in. the user should be able to accept or decline at will. If the adverts are malicious or if it is a forced install, i think those are quite wrong. I understand the need for them for a source of revenue and am ok with them being there just as long as i can check/uncheck the install box..

  • Jyo

    I whole-heartedly accept the fact that these software developers need these ads for revenue. As long as they don’t use deceit to force you to install these bundled nonsense, then I am a-ok!!

  • Agree on all points with you!

  • Steven

    …necessary evil for freeware only, opt in required

  • Conn09

    I completely agree Ashraf.
    I would go further, i hate these extra’s. If i was mad enough to want the toolbar i would get it myself. I don’t want to go to get my favourite software just to find that i have missed the tiny checkbox to say no and it has installed my most hated adversary.
    I wish they would do what CCleaner do and offer a “Slim” version of their download that does not include a toolbar. It is also unfair on those that have a slow internet connection as it means the time to download it is increased needlessly. I get 10mbits, which is 1MB per second, it’s quite fast actually but i still don’t want to download a useless few extra MB of toolbar that i will never want to use!

  • Stranger…

    For myself, I just ask for a easy way to NOT load ANYTHING else.  But I hesitate to suggest it to someone less tech savvy if it is not easier to skip the extras than it is to add them.

  • Agreed as to the need for the developers to make money (although I dislike the intrusion that the ads bring).

    However, the problem has been the semi-deceptive way in which the installer ads have been placed, resulting in unwary user installation of toolbars that are not wanted. 

    IMHO, the situation needs to be reversed, strongly.

  • senile

    I’m happy for a programer to make something for their efforts and be able to give it away free , as long as you can opt in without any hassle if don’t want toolbar . For products you pay for , if it means a discount or free [ like giveaway of the day] ok. Opt in , no hassle , otherwise to heck with them. 

  • Donald Bowker

    Agree with your thoughts on this. I would expect the default to be marked as not agreed ahead of time, with the option of changing to yes or accept. This way if you did not notice and proceeded with install you would not have the third party software added by default. Missed your articles and welcome back. DonB

  • scooter

    If they are upfront and very, very obvious with yes/no options OK.
    We need a degree of honest commerce to sustain this medium.

  • roger

    Normally I have no problem with third-party stuff, as long as it is clearly labelled and easily deselected, or even, as has happened in a couple of cases when I was distracted whilst downloading, easily removed after accidental installing. What I do object to is the sneaky approach, where the extraneous stuff, requiring an opt-out rather than opt-in, is only mentioned in small type amongst  the sort of verbiage that nobody ever reads. Recently, after one particularly nasty infestation,I found myself having to go into about:config to get rid of an unwanted toolbar and hijacked search engine. Somehow it had managed to hide itself from view, now that did annoy me for some reason.

  • Philippe

    I’ m ok with add-on software, if I see it on the moment to install it. So I can accept or reject it. In the case of CCleaner, if you don’t take care you install a new search engine on your browser.  If I use google…it’s for a good reason. I can choose to clip on a paid ad or to look for the search results in an easy way. I use Internet since 1988 and I never liked yahoo or MSN. I want result and no pub. So I don’t use them and don’t want to be on my PC.

  • Emrys

    First, welcome back. To answer your question, they blow sulphur dioxide. Nuff said. FYI…your site does not play nice with Palm Pixi.

  • For the most part I understand it, being a programer my self and all. On the other hand I’m probally the craziest one it comes to system control!

    I happen to prefer the ads method over the toolbar/extraware method. You need ads to help pay fine, I can ingnore them and they don’t impact my system. But don’t give me a program that I don’t need or want that will impact my system. (Even big companies do this! HELLO ADOBE!)

  • Ads are good – as long as they do not interfere with your ‘work’. Waiting for 30 seconds to install software is not a positive idea – packaging something unwanted is surely a ‘spam’.
    Google has made lots of things available for free, thanks to the revenue from ads – a very good example of how websites should be.
    Check boxes while installing software are good. Forcing the toolbars is not a good idea. (I remember I had tough time removing ‘Ask’ toolbar.)

  • Cornflower

    It is not worth it to have no choice but to have ads in software.
    Truthfully, I still have a few MS-DOS based programs from the 1980’s with advertising, and like many an old hacker I quickly created batch processes with SendKey-like functions to get past them.
    Even with web sites, I cannot tell you the last ad that I noticed, let alone read, and I suspect (and see in other comments) that this is not uncommon.  With the proliferation of freeware and non-advertised commercial software, I can still find that which does the job for me without ads.  It would have to be the “cat’s meow” for me to now settle for something so intrusive, yet unwanted and ignored.

    Oh, and by the way, welcome back!

  • ghealy

    I fully understand why freeware developers would want/need to include third party ads. I too would prefer the Opt-in option, but at least give us that Opt-out without penalizing us.

  • Bruce Fraser

    I’ve never written a line of code in my life, aside from some relatively simple batch files. I stand in awe of people who write programs. Further, I am so thankful to those programmers who, having spent huge amounts of time making their program, then give it away for free. I don’t begrudge them at all making some money from their labour. Even though I’m cheap and rarely send them a donation, I will gladly put up with advertising on their website.

    BUT: Much freeware is distributed through other websites, such as So people may never even see the programmer’s website. So if another business gives them money for including an optional toolbar in the install program, I have no problem with that. They are easy to opt out of. And even if they are installed by mistake, the extra toolbars are easy to uninstall. (Some years ago I heard of one which was extremely hard to remove; but that’s the rare exception, not the basis of this discussion.)

  • Jeffinprov

    This isn’t funny, Ashraf!  How do I get rid of my dotTech toolbar?  And no, I do NOT want to have Locutus as my default search engine!

  • Adrian

    Clearly labeled as not being a part of the software the user originally downloaded to install

    Bleh,, if it was labelled that well the advertising company won’t allow it anyway ;-)

  • Skye-hook

    Me too! I agree 100% with Ashraf & all who agree with him!
    Sure, freeware needs “sponsors” or ads, that’s fine.  Commercial software, NO! Even shareware, NO! I have never bought a program that uses ads or toolbars, nor if they try any tricks or scare tactics. There is just no reason to, as there are plenty of great software out there that is good solid stuff & doesn’t need to do such cheesy things. I don’t use an ad or popup blocker for sites, but I never buy programs that have ads, toolbars, or other software bundled in it, whether it lets me opt out or not. If it has 1 of those, it gets no $ from me.
    If a product has things like that, to me it screams “Look at how bad a product I am!”

  • Sujay

    Yes Ashraf, I agree with you. They can’t be blamed for that. After all we are getting their labor for free, so in any way we have to pay them. Either by knowingly disallowing its installation or by unknowingly allowing that.
    It is better than getting a free version that is much crippled compared to the paid version.

  • Orchid

    I agree with you.
    If I want a toolbar or updating software…or even shortcuts being placed on my system, I’ll simply download and install them on my own….separate from any software package.  I find it irritating and bad business practices that software developers include such things with software that cost the user money.
    Ads on sites are different, at least in my opinion.  Sites need revenue to continue one way or the other and I don’t mind them on trusted sites that I enjoy and support.  Others I block in case of malicious or content that I don’t care to see or deal with.
    Freeware, it’s more or less expected that they will include some form.  They have a right to try and earn revenue as well….though it should be something safe and legit when they attempt to.  The problem arises when they include things that they shouldn’t, malicious addins, make it appear that it’s needed….or force the user to keep those included.
    This has unfortunately been what most have done in the past, many still do.  It’s also what’s been the downfall to many that make the software.  Some are looking for that “quick buck” and don’t care how or where it comes from.
    It doesn’t matter how good the software is….if users can’t or won’t trust getting it and having it… will fail and so will the developers making it.  That goes for both Paid and Free software.  Trust comes with time and proving it/they deserve trust to be given.

  • Every toolbar should be opt-in, and have a link to the toolbar producer’s privacy policy in plain language live linked from the install page.

  • Carlos

    Hi, Ashraf
    Unless it is absolutely essential for me, I automatically discard any freeware that I find intrusive. When I say “intrusive”, I mean freeware that makes compulsory to install thirty software during the installation process (even if you can uninstall them separately later). I am who decides what I need and so what I install on my PC, and I expect this level of respect from the developers.

  • If i buy a Volvo car, i do not want to see it loaded with a load of Ford advertising, on my website i run google adds, they pay for the cost of the website, as for being an affiliate to other programs i seldom get any clicks, so advertising does not work for me, seldom do i click on any advertising, if i need or want an item i go out and get it, having said that, software developers need an income as we all do, otherwise we all miss out on the programs they write, often for very little reward, so can one blame them for trying to make a buck or a pound, or even a Euro or two ?

  • I agree completely with your opinions, Ashraf.