How Software Download Sites Are Confusing Users

Written by Amit Agarwal on Apr 29, 2011

Columnist and radio host Dwight Silverman recently did a detailed analysis on how the various software download links, available on CNET’s popular website, could be confusing their not so tech savvy users.

The reason is quite simple. Some of the banner ads running on have big red buttons that scream “Start Download” – such ads are confusing and the user may therefore end up installing a completely unrelated software. To CNET’s defense, they have little control over such ads as these are directly served by Google.

This story reminds me of another popular software downloads site – – that offers a very tricky download process (you’ll soon know why).


What you see above is the download page for the trial version of a popular video game.

Like most users, you are likely to click that big blue link that says “Download” but it will actually download a Softonic software on your machine and not the game installer that you landed here for. The real download link is hidden somewhere below in a relatively small font.

Once you have downloaded Softonic’s own downloader, the first screen of the installer will contain the usual EULA that you need to accept to proceed with the game installation.

On Screen #2, shown below, Softonic recommends installing the Babylon Toolbar on your computer. This option is selected by default so if you pass this screen in a hurry, chances are that you’ll find another new toolbar in your browser.


And that brings us to Screen #3. This is the place where the software installer, you were looking for, will start downloading on your computer directly from the game vendor’s server.  

Since Softonic had an interest in putting that toolbar on your computer, they wrapped the installer in their own downloader thus forcing users to take extra steps for a process that could have been completed in one click.

There’s another interesting thing about this last screen that I should point out – it has a big Google AdSense ad that shows up while the software installer is downloading in the background. Maybe Softonic has a special deal with Google but as far as I know, Google forbids all publishers from showing ads in desktop apps (one exception is Google Earth).


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