Download.com, owned by CNET, has this week been quite rightly called out for forcing excessive amounts of junkware (i.e. unwanted, intrusive and hard to remove software programs) onto anyone who uses the service to download and install free programs. It’s true, easily verifiable, and very unpleasant.
For the innocent user this means the ‘cost’ of downloading a free program can be hours of misery as they try to find out why their favorite search engine has disappeared, or why their web browser now re-directs to an unwanted site or how they can find out what’s slowing down their computer. If you’ve ever been on the unhappy end of this kind of problem you’ll know that it’s really nasty.
So what to do?
Well the first option is of course to totally stop using the site for any software or freeware downloads. There are plenty of other places to find great free software if you do your searching, sites such as Gizmos Freeware and SnapFiles come to mind, and they offer hassle free downloads of lots of great stuff. In fact the only reason you may have needed to use Download.com is where they are the exclusive distributor of a particular program, which suggests that maybe you should find an alternative to that product somewhere else.
But the bottom line of all this is the fact that the Web is changing shape rapidly at the moment. The larger sites especially are being particularly hard hit by slumping advertising revenues as the downturn continues to bite, and the result is they’re trying increasingly desperate methods to maintain cash flow and fund their profitability. It’s not just junkware that we’re seeing increase, but also things like intrusive full page adverts blocking access to content (e.g. Slate.com), deceptive advertising layouts and other legal but ‘sneaky’ tricks to try and generate more revenue from the more desperate sites.
So are we at the end of the ‘free lunch’ web?
There’s no question that the landscape is changing for web publishers. We’ve noticed here at the Ferret that it’s becoming harder to generate the revenues we need to deliver free content to the world, and of course a lot of the massive organizations have already started to tie up their content behind paid firewalls. Only today the Sun newspaper, one of the largest tabloids in the UK, announced that it was joining stablemates the Times and Sunday Times as a paid member only site called the Sun+, and this won’t be the last of its type to do so.
But despite the economic pressures we’re absolutely sure the Web will continue to thrive on free and ad supported content, without needing to resort to tricks or subterfuge to generate cash. For every dodgy CNET type site, there’s a BoingBoing.net which takes pride in its content and its social commitment, and long may it continue. So for now, we’ll grab some popcorn, settle back in our seat and wait for the next fascinating installment of the CNET name and shame game.