Now that Dr. Data is back from the beach and Labour Day is history, I thought that I’d kick off Sept. with a little bit of advice concerning software installation. In particular, free software. It goes without saying that the concept of “free software” is irresistible. Like the TV advert for the hotel chain says, “Everyone loves free stuff.” The problem is that a lot of the time, the free stuff isn’t really free and you may be unwittingly paying for it in ways that you wouldn’t think of.

Many publishers of free and useful software help pay the bills by allowing advertisers to include a graphic/link on their site and/or including options in the utility’s installation package to install additional “free software”. This additional software can be anything from a search engine’s toolbar to something much more complex and difficult to remove if you don’t really want it. One of the favourite bits of add-on software is the toolbar for Ask.com. Ask – it used to be “Ask Jeeves” – is a legitimate search engine that I use from time to time. This toolbar can be useful for directing your searches to Ask but such toolbars may or may not track your searches and even skew the results based on your prior searches. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that but you ought to know just what is or is not going on with your PC.

When  faced with the dilemma of installing or not installing some bit of add-on software, it’s typical for a user to say “Whats the harm in it? I may even find a use for this toolbar/widget/etc.” Odds are, however, that most users will soon forget the add-on was installed and the gizmo will continue to live on, requiring service from the operating system, consuming a bit of memory and being just one more thing that needs to be loaded every day at start-up. Over all, the presence of this one widget may not have a very noticeable impact on your system, but consider the multiplicity of search engine tool-bars out there – Yahoo, Google, Bing, Ask, Glary, etc. – and not paying attention to what you’re about to install can have a devastating impact on your system’s performance. Factor in the possibility that some of these gizmos may “push” additional software on to your system as time goes by and your PC’s performance will go down the proverbial tubes.

There is one more thing to consider. Some of the add-on software may have their own add-on bits that they want to load. In other words, here’s what happens:

  1. You want to install the XYZ utility
  2. The XYZ utility offers to install the Wombat toolbar
  3. The Wombat toolbar offers to install the Diogenes file-finder
  4. The Diogenes file-finder offers to install the Kleen-Machine utility
  5. And so forth
  6. And so forth
Dr. Data has observed no less than 5 installers open at one time; All wanting to add something to your PC and all originating from that one, gotta-have, free utility. Factor in the probability that one or more of these bits will want to push additional software on to your system in the future – often with little or no warning – and your PC will be down on its knees, coughing up blood before you know it.
To show a real-life example, I’m going to show you what could have happened when Dr. Data tried to install the Glary Utilities earlier today. I should state right at the beginning that Glary is one of the free-ware tools I recommend to my clients. It’s good, reliable software that does the job for you.
One of the early panels that appear in the installation process offers to:
  1. Install the Glary toolbar and have Glary Search loaded as the default page every time you open a new tab in Internet Explorer or FireFox.
  2. Make Glary Search the default search engine on Internet Explorer, FireFox and Chrome.
  3. Make Glary Search your homepage on Internet Explorer, FireFox and Chrome. In other words, every time you open one of these browsers or create a new tab in the same, Glary Search will be what you see first.
There’s nothing illegal about this as Glary has every right to promote their products and offer you add-ons.  The text highlighted in blue tells you exactly what’s going on which is something that may be OK with you . . . or not.
    If you don’t want this to happen, simply un-check/deselect/de-tick  the boxes highlighted in green. In fine, you need to read everything when you install software  and decide whether you want the add-on software installed or no.
A subsequent panel shows the following:
Besides creating desktop and quick launch icons, the installer wants to add an icon for Filepuma.com to your desktop. This site is a software aggregator which contains links to the latest editions of many of the popular free-ware utilities. There is a brief description of Filepuma at ideamarketers.com. This addition is probably innocuous but I am citing it here as a simplistic example of how you can wind up getting more than one piece of add-on software if you don’t pay attention.
If you’ve stayed awake during this rant, here are the take-aways:
  • Too many “free” gizmos can have a deleterious effect of your PC’s start-up time, available memory and processing speed
  • Some “free” gizmos can – over time – load additional software to your system thus slowing things down even more
  • In many cases, these “free” gizmos can ride in on the back of legitimate freeware utilities, etc.
  • While this is legal, you may get too much of a good thing if you don’t watch out

To avoid PC Slow-downs due to too many toolbars, etc., you should do the following:

  1. Take your time installing software. Racing through the installation by clicking “Next” on each panel can lead to trouble
  2. Read each panel carefully. Offers to install “free” widgets can appear anywhere
  3. Be aware of what you already have installed on your system
  4. Remember that you have the right to not install any or all bits of add-on software.

Dr. Data will discuss how to be aware of what is already installed on your system and how to effectively uninstall stuff that you don’t want in a future post.

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