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August 5, 2021

Software Bundling Rears Its Ugly Head . . . Again!

It’s always a good idea to know what you’re getting yourself into, software wise. We maintain a list of programs here at Win10.Guru called the Admin Toolkit. It’s a set of carefully chosen third-party software items – most of them free – that I believe provide sufficient value to users to be worth downloading and installing. Lately, however, I’ve noticed an increasing tendency for free software to include unadvertised (and sometimes not even acknowledged) add-ins along with the actual utilities. This practice is called software bundling. It exists to generate revenue for the company that provides users with free software (let’s call them Company A). Instead, Company A gets paid when downloads occur because the company whose software gets bundled (let’s call them Company B) agrees to help fund Company A’s purportedly free download. I’m not sure who I like least in this scenario, because both A and B are showing me things I don’t like to see in such a hypothetical case.

Beware Drive-by Downloads

A drive-by download is one that gets downloaded and installed to your PC without the installer informing you what’s happening, or asking your permission. Sometimes, this results in adware or even malware winding up on unsuspecting users’ PCs. This is NOT what I’m writing about in this case, but it is a practice that everyone should know about. Admins and “family tech support providers” (you know who you are) need to warn their users that this can happen. It’s vital to download free software from reputable sources. It’s also a good idea to check reputation and reviews on that free software before downloading it, because people victimized by drive-by downloads will usually report it and inform others of their bad or questionable experiences. In fact, this qualifies pretty clearly under the heading of “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Bundleware Items De-Rated from the Admin Toolkit

In the past couple of months, two software packages included in the admin toolkit have started bundling software. In both cases, I am compelled to notify readers about this practice. In one case, because the developer has also changed the program’s UI to make it less user-friendly and transparent, I am removing the item from the Admin Toolkit. In the other case, the program still works the same way and does its job well enough to remain in the Admin Toolkit, albeit with a warning about bundleware at the head of its article. Read on for the details, please.Software Bundling Rears Its Ugly Head.mtpw-v11-warning

Warning Item: MiniTool Partition Wizard (MTPW)

As you can see from the preceding graphic the installer file “pw11-free.exe” shows up with the FusionCore PUA warning. If you work through that install, it will ask your permission to install the Avast anti-virus package (which you can decline). The resulting installation of MTPW is completely benign.

Since I downloaded this file on one of my test PCs, MTPW has upgraded to version 12. It still tests positive for a PUA item so I assume the latest free version of MTPW is still offering bundleware. Indeed: here’s what quick check on a machine running the latest free MTPW shows me in Defender’s Protection History (its warning is much more clearly related to bundling now):

Software Bundling Rears Its Ugly Head.mtpw12-warning

I also have a copy of MTPW Pro at my disposal, which is the subscription (fee-based) version of the program (and also includes unlimited Data Recovery capability). It includes no bundleware, and triggers no PUA discovery nor warnings. Readers who like the partition management capaibilities of MTPW may find the data recovery capabilities useful (they just helped me recover an 8TB backup disk whose partition table got munched during some recent upgrade adventures on my production PC). Long story short: for some, this program will be worth paying for, in which case you’d no longer need to steer around bundleware, either.

Dropped Item: Piriform CCleaner

When you install CCleaner, or upgrade to its latest version, you’re asked if you want to install AVG AntiVirus Free as well:

Software Bundling Rears Its Ugly Head.cc-avg-offer

It’s easy to decline the offer for AVG, but my rising ire with UI and default changes in CCleaner has me dropping it from the Admin Toolkit.
[Click item for full-sized view.]

Of course, most users already have an AV solution in place. Unless they don’t pay attention and accept the offer, my guess is that the majority of users decline this “opportunity.” That said, CCleaner’s interface has become more opaque (it doesn’t show what it plans to clean as it did before, to give users a chance to decline certain clean-ups and to understand better what the program is doing). You can use its custom clean function to control its behavior (or tweak it for each run). But because its defaults make the program more opaque, and because PiriForm is pushing users to buy up into its Pro version more aggressively now, I’ve decided to de-list CCleaner from the Admin Toolkit.

I do still have CCleaner running on a couple of test machines. But it’s now been uninstalled from all of my production PCs and from my family members’ PCs as well. I’ve been a user for over a decade, and a fan until recently. I’m sorry to see it go, but unable to recommend it any longer in view of its various questionable behaviors or characteristics. ‘Nuff said.

Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

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