Annoying software: a rogues' gallery

Annoying software: a rogues' gallery

Summary: Which software is guilty of annoying us the most? Here's an identity parade of the chief suspects.

TOPICS: Apps, Reviews, Software

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  • No gain without pain?

    The internet has brought us many joys. It's rewritten the rules of business and pleasure.

    And pain. For it allows what may have seemed like bright ideas at the time ('let's use it to make sure our customers have the latest software', for example) to turn into a stinking pit of misery — usually, but by no means always, after marketing gets its fangs in.

    Here are just ten of the guilty parties who try to do the impossible: to make us hate the internet and wish it had never been invented — and who very nearly succeed.


  • Adobe Reader
    What does Adobe Reader do? Displays PDF pages. How does it do it? With as much bloody-minded bureaucracy, delay and needless interaction as possible. Perhaps it's because we humans have been spoiled by books, where the gap between wanting to read something and reading it is as short as the time taken to lift the cover. But Reader's incessant updates (demanding you reset your computer — why?), thundering great list of modules to load, and hour-glass-provoking pauses for thought have given Portable Document Format a reputation for being as welcome as a flatulent camel in the kitchen.

    Which is a shame, because other lightweight PDF readers seem to manage perfectly well.


  • Apple
    Oh, Apple. You created a domain where humans came first. You took usability and distilled it into an art form. Now look at you. iTunes is a music player the size of a fat-bottomed whale that gobbles resources like krill. It spends half its time trying to sell us stuff and the other half trying to stop us using it. But that's not as bad as your auto-update policy: slipping us stealth copies of Safari under the cover of important version updates to iTunes and Quicktime — what is this, Make Microsoft Look Good day?


Topics: Apps, Reviews, Software

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Amen

    Rupert, you couldn't have said it better, or more accurately. One of the "tricks" that is learned with experience is which programs you will have to go back and disable the "auto-update" feature after installing, or remove the "bonus" software that came with it. I can only think of one major package that you left off the list - Quicken. I still shake my head over the number of "special offers" that get installed with it every time.

    Perhaps it would be good to add a new section to software reviews - "Amount of Unwanted Garbage Installed".
  • Annoying articles

    You know, the ones that span eleven pages at two paragraphs per page?
  • Sun, When Are You Going To Get It Right?

    A new version of Java is ready for you to install. Click here . . . No update is necessary. You already have the most recent version of Java.

    And when will the updater start removing older, insecure builds of the same version when it installs an update?
  • Apple

    And don't forget Quicktime's "no upgrades" policy. You pay for the latest version of Quicktime and six months later they introduce a "vital update" that requires you to install the new "free" version and be subjected to their ads once more or pay the full price again. When you pay for ad-free full-screen Quicktime there's no warning that the next upgrade will require you to pay again, ad-infinitum.
  • And you just wanted to stream The Archers.

    If you live in the UK you can download a "neutered", ad-free version of RealPlayer from the BBC website - as long as you've never installed the "full" version you're safe. The BBC insisted on this in return for converting all their audio streams to Real format. There's no "Music store", no "Alerts" and, crucially, no continual prompts to "upgrade". It just does the job, and it does it well.
  • Jave

    Rupert maybe you're a little harsh on Java; for the most part it does a good job, quietly in the background (like a good suwer), this toolbar thing it probably a way to make some money off Yahoo, firefox is guilty of the same thing with their google toolbar!
  • Annoying Software

    You echo my feelings. Does anyone know how to disable Flash Advertising without disabling Flash altogether ?

    dwr50 say:
    Greed is the CAUSE...
    Advertising is the EFFECT...
    Open Source is the ANSWER... Amen.
  • Real pain in the butt

    Rather than even do Real Networks a favour, go find "Real Alternative" -
    It does everything you expect a player to do without embedding all the extra dross.
  • Disable Flash

    I read the Telegraph online and it does my head in with all the rollover stuff.
    You don't say which browser you use but there is something called "noflash" or similar which acts as a separate program for IE users, and if you are bright enough to use Firefox, there is a plugin called FlashBlock, available from the FF add-ons area. It's great because it just stops the movies playing, but click on the panel and it will then play on...
  • 10 good reasons to make the switch

    Application annoyances like these are only the top of the iceberg for most Windows users. Looking at the list reminded me why I finally decided to quit the proprietary software world and go Free, with Ubuntu, GNU and Linux. No piece of software, Free or proprietary, is bug-free, but at least the Free software shows me some respect.
  • Like with Real

    Go get QT alternative. Plays the same stuff, much smaller and lighter, and no Apple to contend with.
  • Without doubt, the bane of my net existance.... Adobe Reader. The browser plugins are awful, and the application itself is bloated.
    Left to themselves, the users at my office manage to get versions from 4 to 8 all simultaneously installed on their machines and chaos ensues.
  • You missed Lotus Notes

    At work we use MS Outlook, but I have just been outsourced to another company where they use Lotus Notes.

    You can say bad things about Outlook, but Lotus Notes really really sucks.
  • The Beeb's version of Real...

    Yes, it's there and I do try to download it by preference when the occasion demands. It can take a bit of finding, though, and doesn't excuse Real's own hideous habits.
  • Misdirected annoyance

    Flash is a technology as a browser is a technology. If you are going to blame the technology for crappy sites then you should list HTML and CSS. Flash enables sites like and youtube. Flash is a creative canvas...
  • at least the ads were effective...

    Look at it from zdnet's perspective... that's 11x as many ads they can expose you to! ZDNET FTW!!!
  • A miasma of unending complexity

    Rupert. Interesting to note that everyone seems to have a comment or opinion either about your post itself or on one of the products mentioned. What is of concern to me and something which I focus on as a HUI designer/ developer is that the disparate software products are, in fact, not totally interoperable. They fight for space within the 'one space' - your desktop. Fundamentally, it would appear that the collection of separate utilities everyone has in their computers will, in time, become a major problem for people to navigate. Hence, the term Information Overload or as I would prefer to describe it, Navigation Overload. I can't say too much here, but I can tell you this: there is a system being developed that I am aware of which will bridge the gap between search and navigation. The simplicity of this system is somewhat striking - even sexy. In fact, it will render the model we currently view here on ZDNet obsolete. Your data, meaning YOUR very own data (and I mean all of it) will be accessible through one, secure single information utility. As with Frank Lloyd Wright's 'mile-high' building, where the removing of waste was his single most difficult obstacle, the navigation of information is one of the final frontiers of computing and the person or people that deliver it en masse will claim a prize of incalculable value.

  • wow...

    your post... it qualifies of a nice work of humor... what do they say... "a bad master blames his tools" or something like that... Keep posting, it makes me roll down and laugh.
  • Brilliant

    Another Goodwins classic.
    Agree with nearly all of the items in the gallery.
    How these companies think that what they are doing is good business or in the best interests of their users is beyond me.

    Good job there are alternatives such as Real Alternative (to replace RealPlayer). I feel I have to keep swatting off unwanted addons like Mosquitos like the Google/Yahoo Toolbar which seems to be bundled in with everything and the dreaded Safari browser for windows sneaked in with a security update for iTunes.

    I suppose we can expect it to only get worse. Once Apple decide to release OSX on PC we'll have entire operating systems installed along with iTunes patches, RealPlayer will insert ads into your word documents and emails and Java will install so many browser toolbars you won't be able to see a webpage unless you have a super high resolution screen.
  • Another Qualifying Factor

    Can I add another factor to qualify software for the "Rogue's Gallery"? Why do so many (virtually all) software packages think that they are so important that they have to be started automatically every time the computer boots? What is the largest number of "speed access", "update check", "camera download" and whatever other background programs you have ever seen running? Of those, how many did you really need?

    Even my current "favorite" programs, Video/IM chat, are guilty of this. All of them set themselves to auto-start on boot when they are installed, and even worse, if you clear that property and then later install an update, they re-set it again, without bothering to check what the current setting is.