Back to Courier Columns Page

by Ray Carlson

Q. You have recommended downloading free software. Is there a safe website to get such software?

A. The majority of websites that download free software indicate they avoid dangerous malware. Many download sites and some software developers, though, receive fees to bundle the free programs with other unwanted programs. These unwanted programs include programs that generate ads, track use of the internet, or make unrequested changes to your browser. Some sites allow the user to decline the extra programs but only if the user selects the "custom" or "advanced" option and then reads the fine print.

One solution is to download free software called "Unchecky" available here. This software will automatically uncheck the options to include bundled software and will warn you if the installation tries to sneak in a program. A major benefit of using a download website, though, are reviews of the software. The challenge is to get such reviews without the unwanted bundled software.

A frequently recommended safe site is Ninite. The site is easy to use and will assist with updates and new programs. Unfortunately, though, their description of each program is brief with only one word recommendations.

Sourceforge was a highly respected website that two years ago started bundling adware with some downloads. Complaints mounted. Two month ago, another company purchased their website and announced they will no longer do such bundling. The site is useful but complicated.

A few sites always avoided such bundling. MajorGeeks only lists software they find useful and safe. They do not bundle and warn you if the author does. Their descriptions and reviews may be too technical for the average user.

A few months ago, a new website, OlderGeeks appeared. It was developed for older people with less computer savvy. That site is easier to use, provides detailed information about the programs that can be downloaded and avoids bundling. Ratings, however, are limited.

These safer sites usually offset costs through contributions or offering extra services for subscribers.

Published: Courier 5/15/16 - Page 2C