With possibly millions of freeware downloads available online, it’s hard to know which are legit and which just infect your computer with viruses, malware and additional software that bogs your PC down. No matter how hard you try, you’ll likely end up with bad freeware at least once. With these precautions, your risk is greatly reduced and you’ll find it much easier to separate the good from the bad.
What Are Others Saying
Start with looking at feedback from other users. Usually, the developer’s website includes feedback, but don’t stop there. Do a search with terms such as software name reviews, software name scam or software name virus. This will give you a good idea of how others have fared after downloading and installing the software.
Always Use Protection
Most major browsers warn you about possibly infected sites. Disreputable freeware sites are often blocked by Chrome for instance. Also install an anti-virus software with a built-in firewall and live monitoring. One additional step is to have a malware program running in the background. Malwarebytes works well at blocking potentially unsafe sites. Obviously, if you’re being warned about a site, don’t download software from them.
Avoid Cracked Or Illegal Freeware
Even if a site says it has the full version of Microsoft Office for free, that “free” comes with a price tag – your privacy. Many sites offer freeware downloads of cracked software which means it comes with a supposedly working software code so you can install expensive software without paying for it. As you might imagine, this is illegal. Plus, the majority of illegally downloaded software comes with the gift of viruses.
Stick To Reputable Sites
This is a tricky one. I’ve downloaded software from CNET only to end up with a bundled toolbar known for drastically slowing down performance. Yet, CNET is still a reputable site for downloading software. Use your best judgment here. If you see numerous ads cluttering the screen and several pop-ups, go to another site. If you can’t tell the real download button from an ad, it’s definitely not a good site to use.
Another good idea is to check the software developer’s website. For instance, would you really download Firefox from a source other than Mozilla or Chrome anywhere except from Google’s official Chrome site?
Create A Restore Point In Windows
It might seem extreme, but if the freeware does cause issues with your computer, you want to be able to restore it to a point before the installation. Sometimes Windows does this automatically, but doing it yourself isn’t going to hurt and it only takes a few minutes. Use this tutorial for help creating your own restore point.
Backup Personal Files
If you’re already backing up files on a regular basis, you probably don’t have too much to worry about. Make sure any files you don’t want to lose are backed up before downloading any freeware. It’s also a good idea to disconnect any backup drives until you’re certain the freeware is safe.
Pay Attention To The Installation
This is one of the most important precautions to take. Even legitimate freeware is sometimes bundled with not so safe freeware such as audio converters and toolbars. While these bundled apps aren’t technically viruses, they still collect personal information, change browser settings and generally wreak havoc on your machine.
During the installation, read each screen carefully. Uncheck boxes for any additional software. Watch the file names as they’re installed on your system for anything that seems out of place. Basically, if you notice other program names, there might be a problem.
Check Your System Afterwards
This is a three step process. First, check your Programs list within Control Panel to see if there are any programs that don’t belong. Second, open your browser and see if anything has been changed. Check the settings and look for any new plugins or extensions. Finally, run a full virus and malware scan.
Do this right after installing and one week later. If all’s well, then you’re good to go.
Freeware is wonderful, but you do have to be careful. Think of these precautions as the price you pay for getting great software for free.