Open Letter to CNet (Updated)

It has recently come to our attention (original story, HN discussion) that the recently updated EasyBCD listing on CNet/Download.com no longer links directly to an official setup package but rather to an “CNet EasyBCD Installer” which bundles certain 3rd party products and viralware (others are referring to it as malware, we will refrain from doing so) and attempts to pass it on to our end users as part of the EasyBCD experience.

Unlike some of the affected open source software that is listed on CNet, EasyBCD does not use a copyleft license that lets companies and individuals do whatever they want with EasyBCD and repackage it in whichever manner they choose. In fact, in the past whenever we were asked why one of the most popular freeware products available online was not open source, we have repeatedly insisted that the ability to maintain control over the distribution and packing of EasyBCD to ensure an ongoing comfortable and friendly user experience has been our number one reason.

CNet is of course not the only download site using these so-called “downloaders” to bundle unwanted software that unsuspecting users would normally not install. They are, however, one of the largest and prior to this, also one of the more respected download entities. As of today, we shall be contacting any and all companies and sites that use custom “installers” to download/install EasyBCD as this is in direct violation of the EasyBCD license.

While this could not come at a less opportune time, with EasyBCD currently being the 11th most popular download in the System Utilities category on Download.com, we feel that maintaining a fluid and smooth end user experience, uncluttered by various intrusive softwares, is a tradeoff well worth making in order to never be associated with an unsavory experience in the minds of our users.

NeoSmart Technologies would be thrilled to maintain our listings for EasyBCD and other NeoSmart products on Download.com, and we have historically directed many users there to get their downloads. As such, our offer is simply as follows:

  • If CNET and other download companies wish to continue, as they did at one point, hosting EasyBCD on their own servers, then it must be in unaltered, unmodified, and non-bundled form.
  • If CNET and other download sites do not wish to host the setup package themselves, then they should hotlink the latest version of EasyBCD directly from our servers. The direct download links provided in our PAD files always permit the hotlinking of the latest version of our software, providing direct access to the downloads in question.
  • If CNET and other download companies are not willing to refrain from bundling EasyBCD with any other package, installer, downloader, or other non-authorized bundleware nor willing to link to EasyBCD off of our official download servers, then we must unfortunately and with much regret demand the the immediate delisting of all NeoSmart products being provided in anything other than their virgin installer package as it was originally created.

The latest versions of the EasyBCD installer, as well as those of our other popular software and products, are all digitally signed by NeoSmart Technologies. In short, any download for a NeoSmart product must make available the untampered, digitally signed installer as it was originally released by ourselves. Authentic NeoSmart setup packages can be recognized by means of the following digital signature when viewing the file properties:

We are sorry to have to be making these demands, but are left with no other choice as we have always and forever prided ourselves in providing top-notch quality products and a wonderful user experience. We constantly turn down very lucrative and alluring offers to bundle EasyBCD with other “unwanted products” in exchange for rather princely sums of money. Fortunately, our custom, non-GPL/non-opensource license for these softwares allows us to stipulate and demand that download partners conform to our distribution policies. We look forward to updating this post soon with the good news that CNet and others (currently Softonic) have complied with our terms of distribution. A copy of this request has been filed with Upload.com support under case number 111205-000208.

In the meantime, anyone looking to obtain EasyBCD and other freeware or shareware from a download catalog should look at Softpedia (our EasyBCD listing there) and FileHippo (not currently hosting EasyBCD) as good alternatives. In fact, both have text on their site indicating that they pride themselves in providing clean and non-intrusive downloads to original and unmodified packages. We also advise any other freeware authors and developers hosting their files with Download.com to double-check and make sure that their users are not being taken advantage of unawares, and to follow suit if necessary.

Update (11:05 AM CST): We have just received an email from CNet informing us that they are no longer using what’s officially called “CNET-Installer” for our products. As such, we have no problem linking to the EasyBCD listing on Download.com once again.

25 thoughts on “Open Letter to CNet (Updated)

  1. Wholeheartedly agree with your response. CNET is going downhill. I download the last version of EasyBCD from their site and was appalled by their trickery to satisfy their greed. I haven’t used CNET for downloads eversince and don’t plan to use it anymore until they get rid of that malware installer.

  2. Since CNet’s installer is proprietary, it also conflicts with GPL and many other copyleft licenses.

  3. If you request CNET, they stop doing that. But it’s annoying for every tool or utility developer to tell them to not bundle their app in CNET’s crapware installer. There should be a class action lawsuit against them for mass license violation.

  4. Can you please fix the typo on your Softpedia page:

    “then take a loot at EasyBCD.”

  5. GrammarNazi: thanks for spotting that! Unfortunately, it’s not “our” softpedia page, their editors wrote that! I’ll drop them an email and see if I cannot get them to change that, though.

  6. On the strength of this letter, I won’t be using cnet download again. I recommend softpedia or filehippo (currently my favourite).

  7. ‘…I?ll drop them an email and see if I cannot get them to change that, though.’
    Mahmoud Al-Qudsi surely you mean ‘…can get them to change that’?

  8. Pierre, it’s an American-English thing. I’ll see if I can’t find a more authoritative answer/reference because you’ve made me curious. (Pun intended :)

  9. Pierre, have a look at this explanation: http://english.stackexchange.com/a/50873/2899

    The short and long of it is that the usage of both “can” and “cannot” in this case is perfectly fine. In American English, you’ll more often come across the latter than the former, or at least here in the Midwest. The reason they both work is because if I discover that they can fix it, then I know that it’s not true that they can’t fix it, and vice-versa. As such, either phrase, i.e., either discovery, will result in the same conclusion.

    Confusing, but logically sound. :)

  10. Thanks for a great product and glad you got CNet to stop the damage to your reputation. Wishing you continued success. I am counting on your support as we move into the realm of Windows 8.

  11. You really should consider removing the software from CNet altogether. They’ve violated your trust, the trust of your users and as far as I can see, have not changed their behaviour, just tweaked things for the people who have stood up to complain. For CNet to really take notice, you need to tell them that you cannot be associated with them until they clean up their act, for all the software they host on their site. That’s what we are doing for our software.

  12. You should stop linking to them. They broke your trust once. Even without their bundle they are making a lot of money with the other adverts on their site. Fuck them.

  13. @Oli: Thank you.

    @Jaap, @Marc: We’re seriously considering it, having received a second response from someone else on the CNet team that was far less helpful and completely ignored the point.

    @bummpr: Thank you for using EasyBCD. Have you seen our latest post on the new Windows 8 bootloader?

  14. There’s already a movement within the open-source software community, spearheaded by the author of nmap, fyodor, the letter for which can be found here:

    http://seclists.org/nmap-hackers/2011/5

    While he explicitly makes a specific exception to disallow this form of distribution of nmap (the GPL allows the author to specify exceptions), the GPL itself has a few provisions that keep it from being distributed in this fashion. These include the requirement to furnish or link to the source code and linking (GPL software linking against non-GPL software, as well as exceptions to same). The latter seems a bit hazy to me (the software is an installer which neither relies upon nor is relied upon by nmap). However, I’m not a lawyer, but if the first one by itself is not being honored, that’s already a huge violation.

    Also, there are several resources Free and Open Source software developers can take advantage of if their rights, based on copyright, are violated, including the Software Freedom Law Center, located at http://www.softwarefreedom.org.

    Unlike yourself, he takes the gloves off. Were this my software, neither would I. If it makes undesired changes and/or installs unwanted without seeking the user’s informed consent, the software has met the core definitions of malware.

    I am not suggesting that you change your license at all. What I am suggesting is understanding how open source licensing works before saying something like what you had written.

    That said, I do like your software and the fact you try to make it as good as an experience as one can get. I always try to and tell any of my friends and clients to make sure they get them from trusted sources, notably a package’s developer if possible. It now looks like that I can now mark download.com as an “untrusted” source.

    Thank you.

    –IJ.

  15. It helps if I read things a bit more closely. As it turns out, you already know about fyodor’s letter. My post in that respect is already redundant. However, everything else remains. Not all open-source software licensing, especially as fyodor licenses nmap does.

    Thanks.

    –IJ.

  16. Great to hear that you told CNET and others to stop this practice because it has actually stopped me from trusting CNET and downloading software. I don’t want there downloader or software where they think I might want. If I wanted that software I would have looked for it. I don’t care if the get a kick back or not. When companies do something like this “attempting to force users to what they want you to do” they LOOSE users and most don’t come back.

  17. I dont trust cnet anymore. Anytime I download anything from their site, there is always extra shit added to my computer that I have to spend time hunting for. Stay away from cnet

  18. Yes I saw Yahoo doing a similar thing recently with my open source software.

    Note however that even for open source software, I believe these companies risk falling foul of various terms, for the GPL most notably that they tend to not provide or link to the source code. So one could probably get them on those grounds in practice…

  19. Good for you for calling CNET on this!
    Regarding can vs cannot: to the ears of someone born in the U.S. who’s lived all over the U.S, “See if I can get them to change that” sounds natural and proper. “See if I can’t get them to change that” sounds natural but colloquial. “See if I cannot get them to change that” sounds like a reparsed colloquialism perhaps spoken by someone who learned English outside of the US, or as a second language.

  20. Really agree with all of you! Starting winth craptonic and now Cnet, where the frak all those downloading sites are going today? I know that the need for money is real today but please don’t infect freeware with this *hit.

  21. so glad you did this (and made it public). CBS has turned CNET to the dark side. TechTracker? unmitigated disaster. they’re dead to me.

  22. Why are you still using them? This has been going on for quite awhile now. My personal favorite — http://www.filehippo.com/ Totally free, plus it would be great to be able to download some older versions, of which they’ll archive…. Chop chop, Cnet suxs!!! Who even refers to Cnet’s content anyways

  23. i agree neosmart, this practice of entrapment is nasty and I always search for a clean download of freeware-afterall freeware should be FREEWARE

  24. Agreed. It’s bad form for the big guys to try to game the market place, and I think they will get away with it less & less as social media grows.

    Companies that treat consumers with contempt will pay for it in the end.

    Ask Sony playstation network how much it’s lost.

    I think they’d lie if you did tho.

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