Windows Crapware Flourishes

Last week, TechCrunch’s Anthony Ha reported that a company called InstallMonetizer had attracted considerable funding from Y-Combinator and others:

The company says that it now works with more than 9,000 publishers. It’s profitable, and the number of installations that it’s driving doubles every two or three months. It has also attracted high-profile investors, raising $500,000 from Andreessen Horowitz, Digital Garage, Fenox Venture Capital, SV Angel, and Transmedia Capital.

Great success story! There’s just one small problem: InstallMonetizer’s “selective ad network for desktop software” makes money by pushing crapware and spyware onto unwitting users’ systems. Long Zheng and Rafael Rivera were quick to point out the company’s noxious business model and ludicrous privacy policy. Zheng himself had already received (and turned down) three offers to add similar crapware to MetroTwit. Following up, Ed Bott suggests that the people funding Windows crapware are themselves immune from it:

The biggest irony of all is that InstallMonetizer is being funded by people who I’m willing to bet never touch a Windows PC in their daily lives. In the Valley, of course, everyone uses Macs. Big-time VCs have no problem paying for fully loaded MacBook Pros for everyone in the offices. And guess what? Oracle’s installer for OS X doesn’t include any crapware. No money there, I guess.

The bit about “Oracle’s installer” refers to the Oracle Java Runtime Environment (JRE) which, aside from its own notoriously unsafe browser plug-in, also attempts to slip Ask Toolbar and McAfee Security Scanner onto consumer systems. Ed Bott has crowned Java the new king of foistware for this practice. (Tip: Get the JDK instead of the JRE, it’s clean and the 32-bit version includes the Server VM which is inexplicably missing from the JRE.)

Software download pages are another popular crapware vector. Judah Gabriel Himango’s 12/2011 article The Sick, Sad State of Windows Apps describes the slow and painful procedure of trying to obtain the (excellent) Paint.NET from pages booby-trapped with crapware links. Thankfully, Paint.NET has since cleaned up its web presence. (edit: But only a little bit, see Judah’s comment below!)

Zheng and Himango agree on the obvious solution to all this nonsense: a curated app store, with exactly one download location per app, giving you exactly that app and nothing else. As an added bonus, payment for commercial software is greatly simplified, removing a big incentive to add crapware in the first place. Microsoft’s new Windows Store may be flawed, but it’s a sadly necessary feature for systems with a large number of non-technical users.

5 thoughts on “Windows Crapware Flourishes”

  1. Thanks for the hat tip. You said Paint.NET has since cleaned up their website? Only a little. Notice the big blue “Download” button near the top of the page – it’s actually an advertisement. And even if you click the right download link, it takes you to another page with, you guessed it, more advertisements.

    1. Oh no, you’re right. I forgot that I had AdBlocker enabled when I checked out the site… without it, there’s still a gigantic crapware download button. Thanks for the correction, I’ll edit the post.

      1. I wouldn’t mind advertisements so much if they weren’t deceptive. The ads on the Paint.NET site are designed to deceive users by appearing to be download links, when actually they are advertisements.

        I’d much rather pay $10 to the Paint.NET guys and have them remove the ads. But maybe I’m in the minority when it comes to paying for software.

        1. Totally agree, I’m quite happy to pay reasonable amounts of money for good software. But most Windows users seem to expect most software to be free — ironic, since that’s the old Linux user stereotype! The 1990s had a thriving cottage industry of productivity and utility software for Windows, much like you see today on iOS and also on Macs. Today it’s almost gone.

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