For the uninitiated; SourceForge is the primary repository for open source software, hosting more than 300,00 projects. By extension, this means that SourceForge has also become the primary download source for open source software. Apparently, SourceForge has now decided to offer developers the opportunity to monetize their projects per medium of a new revenue sharing program called DevShare.
When downloading software submitted by SourceForge’s participating developers, instead of the usual direct download, users get a “SourceForge Installer” which bundles the software with third party offers used for monetization. This is similar to the method utilized by the notorious “Download.com” at CNET, with one major exception – at SourceForge it is the software developers themselves who profit, not the download host.
The SourceForge Installer and Ask Toolbar
Let’s take a look at how the installer works when downloading the popular open source FTP software FileZilla – which is now participating in the DevShare program.
*Windows users who click on the FileZilla download button will now see a message that the “SourceForge installer download will start”:
This is a small installer that bundles the program with an advertisement… a sort of download wrapper. Which means you must be connected to the Internet in order to complete the installation:
Running the installation file opens the initial screen, including a “Welcome” message which confirms we are indeed dealing with the SourceForge installer:
Click Next, and this is when the offer will now be displayed:
As you can see, the opt-in/opt-out buttons are distinct and clearly defined, although I’m not sure about the color choices. A brighter green color for the Accept button, whereas the Decline button displays in a similar gray to that which is often associated with non-working or disabled options… hmmm!
If you hit the Decline button, from there on in installation is as per the norm, straightforward with no further complications.
If you don’t choose to accept the offer, the installation will continue, and you’ll hear no more about it. Nothing is installed without your consent, and no personally identifiable information is sent anywhere without your consent.
User comments are consistently reporting that the infamous Ask Toolbar is also included, and the information provided by SourceForge on this page… http://sourceforge.net/devshare/why… appears to confirm those reports:
The Ask Toolbar is integrated with the SourceForge installer. During the installation of projects participating in the SourceForge installer program, users are presented with an option of downloading the Ask Toolbar.
If you do not wish to install the Ask Toolbar, you can remove the check in the box. If selected, the Ask Toolbar will be installed a few minutes after the main installation has completed, to ensure that your selected product has installed successfully.
However, I went through the complete installation process under the protection of Toolwiz TimeFreeze and saw no mention of the Ask Toobar myself. A post installation check of my system also confirmed that the Ask Toolbar had not been installed. Perhaps the Ask Toolbar is just one of the products included in the additional offers and not presented in each and every case.
Read more about DevShare and its objectives here: https://sourceforge.net/blog/today-we-offer-devshare-beta-a-sustainable-way-to-fund-open-source-software/
*Note: Currently applies for Windows users only, not Mac or Linux.
My initial reaction to this news was one of shock and horror, SourceForge and open source have seemingly been the last bastion of bundle-free software among the multitude of defectors. After further consideration though, I settled down. Sure, there are always negatives involved with this sort of bundling policy but, in this case anyway, there are also mitigating circumstances:
- Firstly, the bundled offer is completely transparent with a clearly defined option to Decline. Furthermore, the user cannot continue on with the installation until the decision to either Decline or Accept has been indicated by clicking on the appropriate button. Which means the additional software cannot be inadvertently installed by simply clicking ‘Next’.
- The overriding consideration is, in my opinion anyway, that it is better to have free open source software available with transparent bundling than no free open source software at all…. or greatly diminished in numbers. If monetizing developers’ efforts is the only way to keep free and open source alive, then I’m all for it. On the proviso that the bundling and option to decline are always entirely obvious..
When you think about it, many open source software developers request a donation from their users, but how many actually comply? My guess would be a very low percentage. Perhaps if more users contributed, the need for additional monetizing programs would be largely negated?
What do you think?