How to Avoid Toolbars, Unwanted Software and Other Installer Tricks

Non-technical friends and relatives have two universal truths regarding computers. One, they have toolbars, background software, coupon offers, and/or search engine redirects. Two, they have no idea how they got there. Most likely, they installed them. Even if you are technically inclined, you’ve probably still been trapped by Dark User Interface Patters.

A Dark Pattern is a type of user interface that appears to have been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.

Downloading software and updates is a minefield of unwanted software. Scott Hanselman details the confusing experience offered by download wrappers.

I am disappointed in us, Internet, that this is a business. Someone wrote this, for their job, directed by their middle manager, who was directed by their rich boss. There was a meeting (there’s always a meeting) where it was discussed on how we could most effectively fool non-technical relatives into installing crap.

These techniques are well-honed and tested. Even experienced users can install stuff they don’t want. So what’s the average user to do? Here are some applications that aim to help avoid unwanted installs.

  • Ninite will automatically install popular apps. Great for setting up a new system. Pros: It won’t bother you with choices and options. It says no to all toolbars and junkware. To update, you simply run it again. Cons: If you add an application you need to rebuild the installer. Automatic updates require the paid version. Limited applications (some like CCleaner, and Adobe Flash have “opted-out)”.


  • Unchecky is a new player with a simple mission, “keeps your checkboxes clear”. Pros: Simple install, unobtrusive. Updates automatically. In theory, it can support all installs, not a limited menu. Cons: It fails to detect all offers. Should improve over time. Legal issues related to “terms of use” may lead to an uncertain future.


  • Npackd is similar to Ninite. Pros: Has more software. It’s installer also detects already installed software. Cons: Steeper learning curve, and not the easiest to use. Bottom line if you can install and use this program, you probably don’t need it.

  • PortableApps takes a different approach.  Pros: Once you have an app installed you can access it anywhere, no need to reinstall. It’s always updated, and safe from harm hosted remotely. Cons:Again a limited selection of apps. Probably the geekiest option, but an interesting alternative.


Have you been fooled by an installer?