Ad Supported Software is NOT Free

March 8, 2008 – 3:52 PM

One of the things you will hear about spyware is that “it keeps free software free”. The spin doctors and apologists go on about how you are able to install software for free because of the advertisements. To hear spyware companies tell it, they sponsor these poor, starving software developers out of the goodness of their hearts.

That is not entirely accurate. It is not, in fact, accurate in any way.

Spyware and adware makers want to install their software by any means they can come by, legally or otherwise. Once installed, they want it to remain installed regardless of the wishes of the computer’s owner and they want it to run the entire time the PC is running. The fact is that installing a free program usually is not worth the hassle of dealing with a third party spyware or adware bundle. It is not a fair trade.

A fair and equitable exchange would be if the adware/spyware ran only when the free program which installed it was running. No spyware does this. Instead, it runs as soon as the PC starts up, often with the use of cleverly hidden start up entries.

This confuses me. If the deal is that the user has to endure the spyware in order to use the free software, then why does the spyware not close down when the user is not using the free software? That is the deal: free software in exchange for dealing with ads. The deal is not supposed to be a never-ending barrage of pop-up ads in exchange for the occasional use of a free program. That is not a fair trade.

Another fair exchange would be that the adware/spyware be removed entirely if the “user” decides to remove whatever free software installed it. However, every time this is suggested, the spyware makers dismiss it out of hand. What I would like to know is: “why?”.

If the free program is no longer installed, why is it still being sponsored? The “user” permitted the adware or spyware to be installed only in exchange for using the free program. That assumes that the “user” was properly informed about the presence of the adware/spyware in the first place. Why should the sponsor software remain if the sponsored software is removed? That makes no sense.

One argument put forth is that removing the spyware when one free program is removed might interfere with another free program which installs exactly the same spyware. That is absurd. Assuming someone did actually install two separate programs which bundled the same spyware and then removed one of them, the remaining program would just reinstall the spyware the very next time it was run.

When the free program is removed, the spyware should be removed right along with it. However, no spyware maker will do that voluntarily. They are not interested in a fair and equitable trade. They just want their spyware installed and running by any means necessary.

Now, on to those software developers who decide to sell their users out to the adware and spyware makers.

You will hear the most heartwrenching stories from these developers, as they try to explain to their users why the newest version of their software has begun to set off virus alarms. They will say that no one paid for the upgrade to the pro version. They will say that no one clicked the “donate” button. They will say that, to keep up with their development and hosting costs, they had no choice but to bundle the spyware.

All of that may be true but it is not the whole truth.

The truth is that spyware and adware companies pay large amounts of money to have their software distributed. Some of them even create their own “free” software just so that they can bundle their own spyware or adware into it. Claria did exactly that with their Gator password manager and Precision Time Manager.

The “free” software developers will say that they bundled spyware into their products because not enough people spent the 30 bucks to upgrade to the pro version. If that is the honest truth, then why isn’t their software designed to remove the bundled spyware, as soon as it has generated thirty dollars worth of advertising revenues?

For that matter, why do these developers even need third party adware at all? Simply embed an advertising banner directly into the program’s main window. As soon as the program has shown the user thirty dollars worth of ad banners, it can remove the advertising module automatically.

If all ad supported software worked this way, I imagine that most software would be ad supported. I also imagine that most users wouldn’t mind the arrangement one bit. The cost of the program would be paid for without the users ever having to pull out their credit cards. It would be a fair and equitable trade, something we do not have now.

The sad thing is that these developers would make a hell of a lot more money if they followed this much more consumer-friendly route. I don’t know what the going rate is for a bundle install of Claria’s ad serving software. Whatever it is, I’ll bet it isn’t thirty dollars per copy. If the developers of Kazaa and other spyware-ridden programs started doing this, the problem of bundled spyware would disappear virtually overnight.

The moral of this ramble is this: ad supported software is not free! “Free” assumes that you receive something of value in return for nothing of value. The spyware makers and distributors are well compensated while all you receive are pop-up ads. Not a fair trade at all.,2005#threethings

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