The Problem of Adware in Free Software Downloads

There are all sorts of "free" software downloads that you can find on the Web. Some are illegally shared pirated programs, but most are either genuine freeware (the developer gives the program away, expecting nothing in return), shareware (you can use the program for a while to determine whether you want to keep it, and then are expected to pay if you decide that you do) or adware (the developer is supported by advertising of some sort).

This can be in the form of banner ads embedded into the program's interface, or services that deliver targeted advertising when you're online.

Last week, we recommended a number of utilities to help clean up duplicate files on the hard disk, all of which had been referred to us by readers. Afterwards, we discovered that one of these reader-recommended software programs is associated with an adware service, 180Solutions. The name of the program is Duplicate File Killer, and it includes and installs the Zango Search Assistant, which displays ads based on your Internet browsing. If you tried out this software and want to remove it, you can remove it using using the Add/Remove Programs applet in Control Panel.

Meanwhile, we tested several more duplicate file removers and found one, with a confusingly similar name, DupKiller, that really is freeware with no adware or other "hidden features," doesn't impose a limit on the number of files/folders or drives it works with as some free versions do, and doesn't include nag screens asking you to donate or upgrade to a paid version.

It's a fairly quick download over a broadband connection, at 2.76 MB, and it installed easily in less than a minute and includes an uninstall option. We liked it because it works with removable media as well as hard drives, and gives you lots of options. For example, you can have files moved to the Recycle Bin or delete them completely from the hard disk, and you can exclude specified folders or file types from the scan altogether. You can also choose whether to scan hidden system files.

The interface is simple and easy to use, and the scan is fast. The program scanned my C: drive, containing 16,459 files, in just 45 seconds using quick scan mode, and found 417 duplicate files. This program can also be configured to do a byte-by-byte comparison, so that if even one byte is different, the files will not be flagged as duplicates. Best of all, it has received "no spyware, no adware, no viruses" awards from several different sites. You can find out more and download the program here.

Tell us what you think about the whole adware concept. Is obvious adware just as bad as spyware? Or is it okay as long as you're notified before installation that the adware is included and told how it works?

Would you prefer to pay for software to avoid advertising of any kind, or are you willing to tolerate advertising in exchange for free software? Do you ever use "donationware"? If so, do you ever donate to help support the developers?