That would be a problem, ‘search for download’

Sunday, April 15th 2012. | Internet News

downloadLooking for a news topic through a Google search is a great idea. Trying to find a download this way is a bad idea.

It turns out that quite a few sites exist just to trap you into downloading the wrong product. At best they only ask you to buy something you could get elsewhere for free. You may not think of that as “best,” but it can get a lot worse. In the worst situation, some of these sites take control of your computer and start downloading material you don’t want, never wanted, and will find hard to get rid of. Bob unknowingly acquired something called “I Want This” in this way, and he certainly didn’t want it. It was definitely hard to get rid of.

A lot of our readers wanted to download SmartDefrag, which speeds up your computer. They searched for SmartDefrag. Makes sense, right? It has become common practice because Google and other search engines are so good at finding stuff: If you only know the name, you do a search.

Nearly all site managers are aware of this practice and some position their site to come up for lots of different search terms, especially searches for popular free programs. In this case, the readers who searched for the program we talked about in the column wound up at Softonic. Softonic has its own agenda and sends out just what they want you to see and use. Boom, that stuff is slugged into your computer at the speed of light. At the end of the content dump, they add a toolbar. It appears at the top of your screen, under or above the toolbars you normally use, like Google’s nearly blank search bar, or the bar for websites you frequently go to.

Avoid extra toolbars like the plague. Unless they are special purpose toolbars, designed to work with particular programs, such as Word, spreadsheets, graphics editing, etc., they simply slow down your computer and sometimes override your normal toolbars. In the case of the program we recommended, avoid any search result that has “softonic” in the address. The correct site for Smart Defrag is iobit.com. And be wary of any sites that try to charge for free programs. If we tell you it’s free, it means we went to the right site and the program was free.

We talked about the problem with our favorite tech guy, Kenny S. He says it’s easy to get spammed whenever you use a search engine to look for downloads. Even CNET, which owns download.com, a long-running and trustworthy site, has advertiser links that lead to spam-filled downloads. Kenny has started a Facebook forum to help address this and other problems. It’s free and open to anyone who has tech questions. He also does tech support for a charge, but unless you need a real workup on your computer, most advice there is free. Find it at tinyurl.com/KennySTech. His other tech support page is crossloop.com/KennyS.

FREE ONLINE STORAGE
There are so many free services for storing your documents and files online that it’s easy to overlook what appears to be the best, which is Microsoft’s SkyDrive. The software giant offers five times as much free storage as any of the others. Oddly enough, it seldom gets any mention in the tech blogs. Is there any reason for this? We’re open to conspiracy theories.

The Wall Street Journal recently compared Apple’s iCloud, Amazon’s Cloud Drive, Box, Dropbox, and Microsoft SkyDrive. SkyDrive offered 25 gigabytes of free storage, the others only 5 gigabytes. All of them provide extra storage for fairly nominal fees.

New features in SkyDrive let you share stuff on Twitter and Facebook, right-click files to reorganize them, access a “shared folder” to see what others have shared with you, etc. A desktop app is “coming soon,” to allow you to drag and drop files into the SkyDrive without opening up Internet Explorer, Firefox or some other browser. For now, just go to SkyDrive.com.

Let’s look at some of the other choices, which may be geared more closely to what you commonly use. You might prefer Amazon’s Cloud Drive if you buy a lot of songs on Amazon and want easy syncing with your Kindle Fire. You might choose Box if you want to integrate with business apps such as Salesforce and Netsuite. iCloud is handy for iPhone, iPad and Mac users. It syncs your contacts, documents and media. Dropbox seems especially easy to use.

Apple’s iCloud is the most popular free storage site, with 100 million users. Dropbox is second with 50 million.

INTERNUTS
•RentSocial.com is a nationwide service that helps you find an apartment, contact the landlord directly and make friends once you’re there. Seems like a nice idea — you know how hard it is to get to know people in a new location — but don’t get your hopes up too high, because we tried a few addresses of apartment buildings and the service couldn’t find them. It couldn’t find our own apartment building, for example, and it’s huge.

•Goodsie.com builds an online storefront for your business. It looks like the easiest one we’ve seen and the designs are great. Plans start at $15 a month.

GMAIL APPS
•WriteThat.Name (it’s not dot com, it’s dot name) is a free program for Gmail users. It keeps your address book up to date by comparing incoming mail with the info in your email address book. This is really handy; we downloaded it for ourselves.

•BrandMyMail.com is a free program for putting ordinary Gmail messages into virtual stationery, with your latest Twitter messages off to the right and your custom logo and photo below your signature. It’s interesting; Joy just started using it.

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