Last updated on January 14, 2013
Wowie-zowie! How truly great is Windows, which offers up so much fun stuff we never get to see running Linux.
Yesterday while searching through tech sites looking for articles to use on our Facebook feed, I ran across a review of a free utility application for Windows. The program, Toolbar Cleaner, basically aids the user in removing unnecessary programs that might be slowing a Windows machine down, such as toolbars and browser plugins and extensions. Need I mention that most toolbars were probably installed by other free programs for Windows?
Reviewing the product for PCWorld was Mark O’Neill, who thought this program was as peachy keen as it gets. Not only would it remove toolbars and plugins for those who couldn’t figure out how to do it themselves, it would also let the user tick away anything unwanted that’s scheduled to run at start-up, even though it offered no hints about which apps might be necessary and which are not.
Golly gee, doesn’t that sound just great? Then he explained that the user would need to be careful when installing the program, as a click-through default install might make some changes in the system settings:
“During the installation process, the app will try to change your browser homepage as well as install something called an “anti-phishing domain advisor” (more on that later). You can easily bypass these by unchecking them before proceeding, but an unalert user with their eye on something else at the time may totally miss it. So concentrate on the installation; otherwise, you will have something else to uninstall later.”
As to the Domain Advisor, O’Neill later had this to say:
“You might think it ironic that a program dedicated to removing bloatware is trying to install some of its own. However, I checked with developer Visicom Media, and they told me that Anti-Phishing Domain Advisor is actually a security application that they develop for Lavasoft (makers of Ad-Aware) and Panda Security. The Anti-Phishing feed, which comes from Panda Security servers, is updated several times per hour. The developer was keen to point out that installation is not obligatory.”
Now let’s get serious for a moment.
This clearly illustrates why most of the free proprietary binary downloads for Windows, available on sites like ZDNet (one of my favorite sites–don’t blame them, they’re just supplying a service), are not free at all in the sense that FOSS is free. They’re not free as in speech. At best, they’re free beer–and almost always, not very good beer at that.
Last summer I wrote about some experiences I had with ZoneAlarm, a free firewall for Windows that attempted to install a toolbar during upgrade and which did install pieces of the toolbar that had to be removed manually, even when told that no toolbar was wanted. As well, every browser’s search setting was reset to send search queries to ZoneAlarm’s own search page.
My experience with “free” programs for Windows is that such shenanigans are business as usual, and justified by the fact there is no charge for the software and a buck has to be made somehow. The old saying, “there’s no such thing a free lunch,” is defined by such bad behavior.
It’s hard for me to understand how these software vendors survive. I also can’t fathom how people can trust a program that tries to trick its user into installing something not wanted and changing system settings without asking permission first.
Do you want free beer or free speech?
In the FOSS world, such behavior would not be tolerated. All FOSS software is free to use, will never try to trick users into installing something else and will not make changes to your system without seeking your permission first.
Like proprietary freeware, FOSS is downloaded and installed for free. [FOSS isn’t always offered free of charge – see comments below the article.] FOSS applications are available for every platform, from Unix and Linux to OSX and Windows. The program running this website is FOSS, as is the operating system on the computer serving it.
With freeware, the software vendor decides what price the user pays for running the software, such as the arbitrary changing of settings so the vendor can generate revenue from the user’s Google search results. With FOSS, the user decides. Some users may write checks to help pay development costs for some of their favorite programs. Others with knowledge of coding, might get involved and help with the creation and maintenance of FOSS apps. Still others may write about FOSS or help people install and maintain Linux on their personal computers.
Free and open source software, FOSS, puts you in control. That’s a good thing.