Musings on the Bundling Problem

Posted on March 7, 2006 - 16:18 by luis

It's too bad that software can't just be run alone. A lot of the software that we are testing could feasibly be run alone, but since the authors distribute their work for free, they need to get revenue from somewhere (typically adware). So they bundle, and then the problems start.

We faced this problem when developing a methodology for software tests: when does the core software muddle a computer, and when does other, unnecessary, bundled software take over? With so many programs, processes, and data files running between programs on a computer, it becomes exponentially difficult to track it all.

For now, we dodged this bullet by only downloading software from its author's website. If the authors bundled their software with really naughty programs, then they should be held accountable for it. Sure their EULA might say that the company is not responsible for what the
(naughty) bundled software programs do, but if they're bundling them, then they're essentially complicit in however the bundles act.

Take a leading piece of peer-to-peer software as an example. While the website, somewhat misleadingly,
advertises itself as "Spyware Free," the software bundles over half a dozen
advertisement spewing programs that muddle with too many toolbars,
popups, webpage highlights, and a bunch of other stuff you never
expected (but if you read several nearly unintelligable EULAs, you might
have). Nor can these beasts be easily disabled -- every reboot, they
come back. Getting rid of them is like wrestling a buttered monkey. And when you run their uninstaller, one of the Explorer toolbars remains on the computer! This (and others) are unquestionably ad-supported with really naughty programs, and the creators of the software could be much more up front and clear about it.

Moral of the story? Misleading advertising, hard-to-kill programs, and
buggy uninstalls shouldn't cut it, and manufacturers shouldn't be able to hide by saying 'well, it isn't our software that is giving you popups' if they are shipping and bundling the software.

[Written originally by brilliant intern Josh Rosenthal, who did all the hard work. Luis just posted it :)]