A while back, we published an article about risks to watch for when downloading & installing free software. While we had an idea of how damaging it can be to perform quick (or typical) application installations, without carefully reading what you are about to install, we really wanted to have numbers and real tests done to evaluate the full impact. I managed to find two days to spend on making such tests and here are the results: 8 real ways you will ruin both the performance of your system and your computing experience, if you choose to make quick (or typical) applications, without reading through the installation steps.
I took a laptop with a freshly installed Windows 7. I installed Soluto, to measure the average time needed for my system to boot, prior to making my tests and after they were done. This gave me a good picture of the impact all the installed applications had on the boot time.
Then, I selected a total of 33 free and popular applications to download, each representative for the type of functionality being offered. To choose the applications, I looked at Softpedia, Download.com and Ninite, to see the most popular applications for each category. The list of applications can be viewed in the screenshots included in the next section. They are all very popular and should be familiar to most readers.
The applications were downloaded from their official websites or from the websites where I was redirected to: Download.com, SourceForge, etc. I selected only stable releases. I did not install any beta versions.
I installed all the applications one by one, using their default selections which mean I’ve done mostly Quick (or Typical) installations. When I was asked to install additional software I might not want, I accepted all the dialogues since they were presented by each application as something recommended to the user.
When evaluating the unwanted things installed by each application, I did not consider a desktop shortcut as being unwanted. Also, other applications that were required by an application so that it can function without problems, such as Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributables, Java or drivers, I considered them to be legitimate prerequisites and I have not counted them as “unwanted software" in the tables you are about to see.
Test Results - Major Web Browsers are the Safest!
The safest category of applications is Internet Browsers. As you can see from the table, they do not install anything you might not want to have on your system. Even though I did not evaluate Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Opera, they all have clean default installations, without any unwanted items included.
* - Some might argue that iTunes actually installs only software it needs to function. However, I do not agree. iTunes installs lots of software, some of it not really needed by everyone, including Bonjour (required for network printing in a network with both Windows and OS X computers) or Apple Mobile Device which is required only by owners of Apple devices who want to connect them with their Windows computers. Also, some of the additional software installed, runs at the Windows startup and contributes to slowing the boot procedure.
** - Open Office was the only application which left its installation files in a folder on the Desktop, requiring the user to manually delete it.
*** - AVG and Avast! antivirus applications set themselves to start at the Windows startup. Unlike with other applications, I did not consider this to be unwanted behavior. It is needed to receive the required protection against viruses and malware. Also, they both installed browser add-ons, so that they can scan Internet browsing traffic. Again, I did not consider this to be unwanted behavior.
^- PeaZip does not create a Windows startup entry for itself. However, it installs unwanted software (the Registry Mechanic from PC Tools) which, in turn, creates a startup entry for itself. Therefore I considered this as unwanted behavior added by PeaZip. Also, Advanced System Care Free does not install a desktop gadget for itself. It installs unwanted software (a trial version of WinZip) which, in turn, installs a desktop gadget.
^^ - Daemon Tools Lite and Virtual CloneDrive set themselves to start at the Windows startup. Due to the fact that they are drive emulators, this is considered desired behavior and was not highlighted as being a bad.
Those of you who want to view the results in a better way or download them, can use the PDF file attached at the end of this article.
Main Conclusions - Less Than Half of Applications Will Be on Good Behavior
Looking at the statistics resulted from this experiment, I can draw several conclusions:
- Only 14 out of the 33 applications I tested installed only the things I expected to have installed. That’s 42% of the applications that were tested. Considering my previous experience with applications, I would say this is pretty close to reality in general.
- Open source software tends to behave much better than other software. With one exception (PeaZip), all open source software did not bundle any thing I would not want or that was not critical to its good functioning.
- 39% (13 out of 33) of installed applications set themselves to run at the Windows startup even though, in most cases, the functionality being offered is not required by the user at each Windows startup. The only exceptions to this rule are security software or drive emulators.
The end result is longer boot timings and added user annoyance with each login. All the applications added a total of 46 seconds to my system’s initial 52 seconds boot timing. To put things in perspective, this makes for boot procedure slower by 88% compared to the initial timings on my clean computer. To contribute to my annoyance, at each startup I was also welcomed by a huge number of open windows (all requesting something from me), unwanted desktop gadgets and lots of desktop shortcuts. Being welcomed with a screen similar to the one below, makes for a very bad computing experience.
- 24% (8 out of 33) of applications will install an unwanted browser toolbar which takes over precious screenspace and slows down the Internet browsing experience. Another 24% will change the default search engine used by your browser. At the end of all installations, my Internet Explorer looked like in the screenshot below. Not a pretty sight!
Plus, it started and worked terribly slow. What once was a very fast browser, has become a sluggish monster, barely allowing me to search for information and browse the web. Also, the default search engine I ended up with, was crappy and helped little in finding the information I needed.
- 24 % of applications will install other unwanted applications. These can be either other free applications or trial versions of commercial applications. The applications bundled are very diverse, ranging from Internet browsers such as Google Chrome (installed by Google Earth, for example) to system optimisation tools (such as Uniblue’s Driver Scanner or the Registry Mechanic from PC Tools) or PDF readers. Another problem with the unwanted applications was the most of them were old versions. Therefore they either prompted for updates or did not fully function unless they were upgraded to the latest version. This increased the annoyance level even more.
- Another 18% (6 out of 33) of applications mess up your browser further, by installing unwanted add-ons. The most annoying was installed by Winamp and it was an add-on which checked if other applications changed my default search provider from AOL to something else. Each time this happened, when I started Internet Explorer or opened a new tab, I got an annoying message, asking if I want to keep the new search provider or not. After seeing it for the fourth time, I got really mad and let it use AOL Web Search so that I could quietly continue my testing. Really shady practices from AOL!
Also, some of the unwanted browser add-ons were not compatible with the latest versions of Internet browsers. Therefore, Firefox chose to disable them while Internet Explorer was sensibly slowed down but those which were not compatible.
- 15% (5 out of 33) of applications will change your browser’s homepage, 12% will install desktop gadgets you might not want, while another 6% will add unwanted shortcuts on your desktop, to different paid services, websites or applications.