I am a nerd. There's really no way to deny that. I'm an all-purpose nerd, but with a definite technological bent. And with tech nerd tendencies also comes tech nerd responsibilities. In my case in particular, this means I have a number of computers that I am basically responsible for — both my work notebook and my desktop at home, as well as my wife's notebook, and to a certain extent my sister's notebook as well. That's four computers right there, assuming no one else asks for a favour.
Since I look after all these computers, naturally I installed the same anti-virus software on each of them. And since they all have the same anti-virus software, they all wanted to update to the latest version last week. So I found myself downloading the same software package and running through the same install procedure repeatedly, and that's when I snapped. Not because I was tired of installing anti-virus software, but because each time I had to make certain to NOT install a security toolbar that the anti-virus software company provided.
For all I know, there is nothing wrong with this security toolbar. It's probably fine. Maybe it's utterly and totally awesome. I just don't want it added in to my browser software. But if I didn't make sure to de-select a checkbox during the install procedure, that toolbar would have been installed on every computer I looked after.
This isn't a new thing. Adobe Acrobat Reader and Flash Player have been doing this for years, generally with the Yahoo toolbar. It's called bundleware, and I've complained about it in the past. Google and MSN have done the same soft of things too, all with browser search toolbars. It's annoying and rude, but it's not new. A security toolbar, though, that is a new creature. And it's not the only new toolbar I've encountered lately. A piece of bit torrent software I use frequently had a major update, and with it, low and behold, there was a new toolbar just waiting to be installed. And if that wasn't enough, I know that at least one of the major bit torrent sites is now offering their own toolbar. I'm pretty sure that at least one of the instant message services has a toolbar now, as do news services, gaming sites, and not to be left out, Facebook.
This is getting completely out of hand. If I'm finding this annoying, how is the average computer user — who doesn't necessarily realize that if he isn't careful, every other piece of software he uses will want to install a browser toolbar — going to feel when half of their Internet Explorer (or, ideally, Firefox) window is taken up with toolbars.
I've seen it happen. I've gone to help folks who are finding their computers are way too slow, and there are seven different toolbars all eating up screen real estate, hogging system resources, and generally making thing worse. What's the first thing I do to fix these computers? I rip out the toolbars like so many infected tonsils, and only when they are gone do I get down to seeing if there's anything else that actually wrong.
So let this be a warning to everyone out there. For Mr. and Mrs. average computer user, watch out for that surreptitious tag-along with your next software update. Read those prompts on the screen, and watch out for checkboxes that are pre-checked for you.
For all those software designers that feel the need to stuff toolbars down our throats, cut it out. You might want to stop with the force feeding and start with making a toolbar with useful features that people want. After all, if you make a really good toolbar, people will actively go and get it, and use it, and appreciate it. If you force people to use a toolbar, even a fairly good one, they'll likely be annoyed and resentful. I leave the choice up to you.