Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

Summary: I am sick and tired of software companies that try to make a quick buck by tricking their customers into installing programs they don’t need. It’s time to name and shame the worst purveyors of foistware out there. Adobe and Skype are at the top of my list. Can you add more nominees?

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I’m in the process of rebuilding a PC here—blowing out dust, upgrading some hardware, restoring the OS to factory-new condition, and installing fresh copies of apps I use regularly.

Along the way, I keep running into a sleazy trick that some software vendors play, and I’ve finally reached the breaking point. I am sick and tired of companies that try to make a quick buck by tricking their customers into installing software they don’t need. I’m experienced enough to bypass this stuff most of the time, but many of my friends and family members aren’t. And guess who gets the call when some add-on or toolbar has slowed their system to a crawl?

I call it foistware, and I’ve decided it’s time to name and shame the worst purveyors of foistware out there.

April 29: On the basis of reader suggestions, I have updated the gallery to include three new programs: CCleaner, Foxit Reader, and RealPlayer. April 30: Added DivX.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here’s my definition of foistware:

Unnecessary third-party software that is offered as part of a program’s installation and that will be installed if the user accepts the default setup options.

This category typically includes toolbars and other browser add-ons, but I have seen software makers push browsers and system utilities as well. I do not object to platform components that are required by the app, such as Adobe Air or Silverlight or the .NET Framework. That’s a necessary and related part of the program. I also don’t object if a company wants to fund its free software by offering a third-party program if they leave the installation option blank and give the user an actual, unforced choice.

[No, Apple doesn't fall into this category, because they don't deliver third-party software as part of their packages. But Cupertino is still in a league of its own. For details, see Slimming down the bloated iTunes installer, What Microsoft can teach Apple about software updates, and Apple continues to deceive users.]

Here are examples of the wrong and right way to make this sort of offer:

THE WRONG WAY

When you use Internet Explorer go to Adobe’s web site to install the Flash Player, this is what you’re offered:

Now, I’m not certain why a company the size of Adobe needs to be adding to its revenue by pushing Google’s toolbar. Maybe it’s a condition of the deal in which Google builds the Flash Player directly into Chrome. Whatever the reason, that’s their business (literally).

I do object, strenuously, to the fact that this check box is selected by default. Anyone who just clicks through the dialog boxes to install the thing—in other words, just about everyone—will wind up with the Google Toolbar installed in IE. Yes, it’s easy to remove, but it also isn’t as benign as it might seem. Privacy expert Ben Edelman of Harvard documented some serious issues with Google Toolbar last year, for example.

it shouldn’t be included as part of a default install. Oh, and give Adobe bonus "Oh no they didn't" points for telling users "You may have to temporarily disable your antivirus software."

THE RIGHT WAY

IZArc is a file-compression utility that I use regularly. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it does everything I used to do with paid products like WinZip and WinRAR. As part of the installation process, it offers to install a third-party program; the program’s author is presumably paid a commission for each successful installation. In this case, the offer is for a system utility called Advanced Registry Optimizer.

Now, I hate registry optimizers. In general, I put them in the same category as snake oil, and they typically do more harm than good in the hands of inexperienced users. But IZArc has done the right thing here. They didn’t pre-select either box on my behalf. The choice is mine, and I cannot continue the installation process until I select one of these options.

Adobe Flash Player gets the top slot in my Foistware Hall of Shame, but the free version of Skype’s Windows program is right up there on the list as well. In fact, it does two terrible things. First, it installs browser add-ons for Internet Explorer and Chrome without asking your permission. You have to click the Options button on the opening screen to remove these add-ons:

And then, after you get past that, you get another opportunity to install the Google Toolbar:

Notice, once again, how this check box is selected. The button down at the bottom simply says Continue Installing Skype. A casual observer might not realize that they’re also agreeing to install an unrelated add-on from someone other than Google.

Little software companies are even more likely to offer foistware than big ones. For many of them, it’s a matter of economic survival. Last week, I was looking for a Windows utility that would keep track of temperatures inside my PC. I found two that looked promising. Here’s what happened when I installed CPUID HWMonitor:

Notice that all three check boxes are selected by default. Ask.com has a long and ugly history when it comes to this sort of thing. In this case it doesn’t just install a toolbar but it also hijacks the user's home page and replaces his default search engine. All in a day’s sneaky work, I guess.

Coincidentally, on the same day I received a panic-stricken call from an acquaintance who was experiencing a rash of Firefox crashes. A couple hours later, she messaged me back to tell me that a techie friend had diagnosed the problem:

I called my college computer geek room mate and we removed the Ask.com toolbar (which I never installed, btw) and uninstalled Mozilla, then re-installed it. So far, everything is running swimmingly well…

The other program was called CoreTemp. This screen appeared late in the setup process, after I clicked the Install button.

This one is especially disturbing, in that the “search enhancement” is not identified by name. By following the links to the license agreement and privacy policy I determined that it’s an add-on (for Internet Explorer and Firefox and Chrome) called AutoCompletePro. Do you want to install something without knowing what it is or what it does? If you click Next, that’s exactly what will happen.

And Microsoft is a player in this game too, with its Bing toolbar showing up today when I tried to install my favorite BitTorrent program, uTorrent. It's no better than the Ask toolbar in terms of what it's trying to take over, and it's also selected by default.

I don’t mean to pick on these little guys, but it is a damn shame when they are forced to try to scratch out a living by making other people’s lives miserable.

And a little pressure can work. In my archives, I have examples of Java installing Microsoft toolbars as part of its setup routine. But when I tried to reproduce that today, there was no offer of any kind. I don't know why they're gone, but give Oracle kudos for doing it. [Update March 2013: Or not. Java is worse than ever.]

And I’m afraid I’ve only scratched the surface here. There are probably hundreds of other programs that include foistware as part of their default setup. If you’ve seen other programs that belong on this list, please tell me about them in the Talkback section below. At a minimum, tell me the name of the program and the publisher so I can investigate for myself.

April 29: On the basis of reader suggestions, I have updated the gallery to include three new programs: CCleaner, Foxit Reader, and RealPlayer.

Topics: Browser, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Google, Microsoft, Software, Social Enterprise

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Talkback

277 comments
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  • RE: Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

    Add itunes and Apple Software updater. I believe the first time you install Safari is checked by default!
    jatbains
    • Not just the first time but every upgrade as well.

      @jatbains: [i]Add itunes and Apple Software updater. I believe the first time you install Safari is checked by default![/i]

      And Apple releases a lot of upgrades to iTunes.
      ye
    • RE: Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

      @jatbains This talkback would not be complete without someone taking a jab at Apple... imagine that.

      However Ed is right on in - finally - calling out ALL of the companies that do this... Apple included.
      athynz
      • Let's amend that

        However Ed is right on in - finally - calling out ALL of the companies that do this... Microsoft included.
        ScorpioBlue
      • So you're saying that Apple doesn't do this?

        @ScorpioBlue
        If you feel the need to amend that, my guess is it's because you say that Apple [i]doesn't[/i] do this?
        Bill Pharaoh
      • Your guess is wrong

        Both of them do it, although as Ed said, in Apple's case it's their own crapware, not somebody else's.<br><br>Why you ask? I don't own an Apple.
        ScorpioBlue
      • Much ado about nothing

        @athynz<br><br>I do not think Ed is "right" in most of the cases. If someone provides something of value free of charge, and STILL gives you the option of NOT installing the associated "crapware", I think they have behaved VERY reasonably. If you cannot be bothered reading/selecting the appropriate install options, then you get what you get. This blog strikes me simply as unjustified and pathetic whining.<br><br>Lets not forget the elephant in the room, MS who until they were forced by the authorities, did not even give you the option on not installing IE. Maybe Ed could point that out also.
        Economister
      • RE: Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

        [i]Lets not forget the elephant in the room, MS who until they were forced by the authorities, did not even give you the option on not installing IE. Maybe Ed could point that out also.[/i]

        Good point.

        And if their shills around here had their way, they'd still have it embedded. We'd be back to everybody using IE6 and see little change. 'Business' as usual.
        blind obedience
      • RE: Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

        @athynz
        However Ed is right on in - finally - calling out ALL of the companies that do this... ZDNET included.
        PercySludge
    • RE: Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

      @jatbains Totally agree with you here! I just want to view AVI's, I care nothing for iTunes. But Crapple keeps trying to get me to download it!
      Streaks
      • funny because every time I try an AVI on a mac

        @Streaks
        I need Flip4Mac, from a close MS partner (it was, or it is distributed straight from MS website); so every time you try to install it it make MANDATORY to install that silverlight crapware.
        theo_durcan
      • RE: Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

        @theo_durcan

        You don't have to install Silverlight with Flip4Mac, click the customize button before the install and you can make it go away.
        thehumanyawn
    • RE: Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

      @jatbains

      GOD yes, how could iTunes be left out? They are the WORST! I am forever fighting them off.
      phil.hawkins@...
      • See the links at the top of the story

        @phil.hawkins@...

        I have written plenty about Apple before. I added those links to this story, in italics, just above the picture of the Flash installer.
        Ed Bott
    • Itunes install:

      @jatbains
      Not optional:<br>-Bonjour<br>-Apple Mobile.<br>-Quicktime stand alone and ad-ins.<br>-Apple update.<br><br>Optional:<br>-Safari
      magallanes
      • RE: Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

        @magallanes While it's not exactly a supported means, you can download the 7-zip, open the itunes installer, and extract the MSI's. Then just run each one that you wish for independently.
        darylsonnier
    • RE: Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

      @jatbains
      Plus their software does not play nice with windows machines! It completely hosed my Outlook 2003!
      And what the heck does BonJour do anyway?
      tech_ed@...
      • And what the heck does BonJour do anyway?

        @tech_ed@... I don't know either!! I think it is supposed to do something useful and important, but I'm darned if I know!
        Kwad_Kore
      • RE: And what the heck does BonJour do anyway?

        @tech_ed@... OK, after some research on the apple site, it is networking software.
        Kwad_Kore
      • RE: Adobe and Skype top my Foistware Hall of Shame

        @tech_ed@... Bonjour is like Network Magic, useless networking software. Although Apple says it is required with the newer iPods, iPhones, and iPads.
        techrepublic@...