Q&A: Be Cautious With Free Software
Is it safe to install freeware and shareware on my computer?
Freeware (free software) and shareware (programs that can be downloaded free to use on a limited basis or with a donation request) range from being perfectly fine to acting as a delivery mechanism for spyware. In general, shareware from established companies that offer trial versions of their programs to test out are O.K.
For example, some freeware security products like the free versions of AVG Anti-Virus or Avast! are basic, no-frills editions of the company’s commercial product. Microsoft Security Essentials is another freeware antivirus option for Windows users. (Having an updated security program on your computer before you download anything from the Internet is a very good idea.)
Other types of freeware and shareware are not as well documented. Some “free” programs are free because they have bundled in advertisements and unwanted add-ons that get installed alongside the program you actually wanted to try. Certain programs have been known to install toolbars, change the browser’s homepage and break other applications you have installed on the computer.
Perhaps the best way to find safe, useful programs is to do stick with reputable shareware sites like CNet’s Download.com or Tucows.com. Even with established sites that claim to scan for viruses and spyware, however, read the user reviews and do some online research on any program you are considering. if the free software affects the computer in a negative way, the comments section on its download page (and other online forums) will most likely be filled with complaints, rants and warnings about not installing it.