We’ve been remiss in a couple of freeware picks recently. Programs that we’ve installed and tested just a few weeks ago seem to have gone over to the dark side and started bundling other programs in their installers – all all these changes were made in just a few weeks. We recommended them based on our tests which were just a few weeks old and we’re sorry that we didn’t re-test them before we recommended them. We assure you that we’ll do that from now on because bundling is becoming an epidemic.
At first we were angry that ordinarily trustworthy freeware developers would turn to bundling. But after reviewing some of our freeware picks over the last four or five years, we were saddened to learn a lot of these independent programmers – who offered everyone great freeware – just packed it in and closed up shop. And we realized that some of these developers invested a lot of time and effort into creating good software and giving it away, but it just wasn’t paying the bills. It costs quite a bit of money to maintain a Web presence – especially when you’re offering downloads. Downloads, particularly when the program is popular, uses up a lot of bandwidth – and bandwidth isn’t free.
We test a lot of freeware every week. Some we feature in our InfoAve Daily newsletter, some we feature in our Information Avenue weekly newsletter and all are featured in our InfoAve Premium weekly newsletter. And for the last year or so it’s become increasingly difficult to find good freeware and even more difficult to find good freeware that doesn’t bundle questionable software with it. And it isn’t going to get any better – it’s only going to get worse.
Most people really hate ads – very few (less than 2% on average) will click on an advertisement even if it’s advertising something they’d normally be interested in. And if no one clicks the ads – or only a few do, the ads don’t pay very much. You might show a million ads and only generate a couple of thousand dollars -in a month. But most independent software developers don’t get a million page views a month – most would be happy if they got 50,000 page views.
Many developers ask for donations – but very few people donate. Even if they love the software and use it every day – they don’t donate. Many people won’t donate a dollar or two because they think it isn’t enough – but if 5000 people download a program in one month and each donated just a dollar – the developer would be very happy.
So what’s left? The developer can keep plucking money out of his or her own funds and try to keep going for a while – or he can turn to bundling.
Bundling is a goldmine for developers. They get paid anywhere from 50 cent to a dollar for every single download and installation. So if a developer has 5000 downloads he’s making $2500 to $5000 a month by bundling. There are plethora of companies around who’ll pay to have their software distributed along with a trusted freeware program. Some of these software programs that are bundled aren’t necessarily spyware or adware – but they all install basically without the users explicit consent or knowledge. Many people who install a freeware program that bundles other programs with it, don’t read every installation screen; they just click “Next” until the program(s) are installed. The developer gets paid whether you uninstall the bundled software or not.
We once were angry with honest developers who turned their backs on their users by bundling software with their programs. But now, although we don’t agree with it, we can understand that for a small software developer – it’s a question of survival. Everyone wants something for nothing – it’s human nature. They don’t want to make a small donation of a dollar or two – even if the freeware program is a really good one. And no one likes advertising – even though advertising isn’t all bad. We’ve put up with it on television for 60 years now. We see ads everywhere – in newspapers, in magazines, in stadiums – even on park benches. For some reason, people accept ads everywhere else but not on the Web.
The bottom line is this: You’re going to see more and more freeware developers bundling other software with their freeware programs – or – you’re going to see more and more freeware disappear from the Internet. The Internet is changing from its egalitarian roots where everyone shared and where everything was free – into a huge commercial enterprise where big companies gobble up small ones or just force the mom and pop shops out of existence.
Bundling is going to become more and more popular with freeware developers because it’s a matter of survival. They can no longer depend on advertising revenue and/or donations to pay the bills. Bundling is money in the bank; it’s the last option many of these developers have.
So when you come across a freeware program that attempts to install something else along with it – you’ll know who to blame. We are all to blame. We’ve all taken freeware and used it without ever thinking of making a donation or clicking an ad on the developer’s site to help him or her out. So now we’re going to have to pay someway – and we’ll have to be careful we don’t put something on our computers that we don’t want – just to get something for nothing. We may just get a lot more than we bargained for.
Maybe it’s a little too late to reverse the trend now – but we can try. Please support the sites and the freeware programs you like by making a small donation or a dollar or two. Or click a couple of advertisements that interest you on sites that you like.
The web is becoming less and less free and it’s getting harder and harder for small, independent developers and web sites to make a go of it. These little companies and independent developers offer us all something unique and special – something different than the billion-dollar brands pushed by huge corporations who buy their way into ever facet of our lives. Small independent Web sites and freeware developers are important for many reasons, but none more important than they give us all a choice.