First off, there is no such thing as a 100% safe download site. Some are safer than others, but all involve a certain element of risk. The safest way to download freeware is directly from the developer’s website but, even then, users should carefully monitor the installation process. That said, there are occasions when a direct download is not available because of an exclusivity deal with one of the download portals– more often than not with download.cnet.com who I would never download anything from. As far as I am concerned, they are the very worst of the bunch. Also, there may be times when the user is required to input personal details in order to access the download link. On these types of occasions, an alternative download source can come in very handy.
Bundling – A Little History
Many of you will recall the period when bundling advertising modules with downloads was all the fad– remember OpenCandy? Fortunately, due to extensive adverse publicity and a massive user backlash, that stream of bundling has now slowed to a mere trickle.
Of course, quite a few freeware developers do still bundle potentially unwanted extras within their own installers but, provided the bundling is totally transparent with clear options to decline, I do not have a problem with that. I do not believe the download portals should eliminate these types of downloads from their listings altogether, for two main reasons:
- It’s not up to the download portals to make decisions on behalf of potential users. Some users might be quite prepared to tolerate the bundling in order to download a favorite or preferred freeware.
- Somewhere along the line, users have to accept responsibility for their own actions. Blindly clicking Next, Next, Next, through an installation process is fraught with risks. Each time you click Next you are explicitly agreeing with whatever information appears in that window.
That said, I do believe that responsible download portals should warn users whenever an installer they list includes bundling or ads. More on that as we go along. If ever I need to download freeware from a download portal I will always look for the download at MajorGeeks which is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch.
MajorGeeks – #1 Download Site
I’ve had my share of run-ins with MajorGeeks in the past — specifically over their affiliation with software named Reimage Repair — for which I took them to task: Is Reimage Repair Legitimate? I still don’t understand why MajorGeeks would want to be associated with this clearly shady software/service. Perhaps, like every other site, they are struggling for revenue. Anyway, regardless, on to the good stuff.
- MajorGeeks, to their credit, was one of the very few download portals who didn’t succumb to the temptation of additional revenue provided by bundling advertising modules, and at no stage have they bundled anything within their downloads.
- MajorGeeks does include a clearly identifiable warning whenever a download includes bundling or ads:
(Clicking on that red text will then take you to an explanation of what Ad-Supported means)
What does Ad-Supported mean on MajorGeeks?
It can mean one of two things:
- The program or app runs advertisements (ads) in some way
- The program or app may include PUP’s (potentially unwanted programs)
This is our way of protecting you about software that isn’t truly freeware so you can watch the installation carefully for unwanted third party programs that might try to install. Sometimes it’s as simple as a company advertising their other products and it can be as bad as potentially unwanted programs (PUP’s) you need to watch for during installation.
- MajorGeeks site is easily navigable with clear categorizations and simple yet informative listings
I firmly believe that the lads at MajorGeeks number one priority is user safety and they go out of their way to provide as safe a download source as humanly possible. Consequently, I never have any qualms when listing or recommending downloads from their site.
ONE RESERVATION: As I said earlier, considering MajorGeeks’ propensity for user safety, I don’t understand their association with Reimage Repair. If not using an ad-blocker, the site is littered with advertisements, including a download button, for this notoriously shady software/service. However, in the end, the safety of the downloads is the number one priority, plus one should never click on these types of advertisements anyway, regardless.
Check out this video of an actual experience with Reimage Repair: Scare-Ware!! Reimage Scam
Softpedia – #2 Download Site
- I have personally never experienced any issues when downloading from Softpedia
- As far as I am aware, they too refrained from bundling advertising modules during the time when such practices were more or less the norm
- Softpedia also includes a warning whenever the installer includes bundling or is ad-supported, although not quite as obvious as MajorGeeks’ warning:
- Clicking on ”Ad-supported” elicits the following popup:
Softpedia (not to be confused with Softonic) is another relatively safe download portal that I would have no problem recommending.
FileHippo – Special Mention
Unfortunately, FileHippo was one of the sites which did get sucked into bundling extras with its downloads: Beware: FileHippo Now Pushing Adware. However, following the uproar from media and users regarding this practice, FileHippo did eventually relent and, as far as I am aware, is still not bundling anything with their downloads. Also, FileHippo does not include any warnings for freeware installers which inherently include bundling or are ad-supported.
So, why am I even mentioning FileHippo? Good question. Because they include download links for all versions of freeware, often going right back to the initial release. This service is somewhat unique and particularly handy if one is looking for an older version of specific software. Sometimes a new version doesn’t quite live up to expectations, includes something you don’t want, or excludes something found in an older version you particularly liked. This is just the type of situation where FileHippo’s download archives come into their own.
On a side note: I recently read an article from How-To Geek which gives FileHippo a hard time for listing the freeware “Format Factory”. Now, Format Factory is notorious for its bundling and has been for a long time. I find it difficult to believe that How-To Geek just happened to pick out Format Factory from among the hundreds of downloads available on FileHippo to use as an example.
Whether downloading directly from the developer or from one of the dedicated download sites here are a few rules to help keep you safe:
- Make doubly sure you are clicking on the correct download link
- Do not click on any ads, ever
- Monitor the installation process closely. As I said earlier, blindly clicking Next, Next, Next is almost sure to eventually lead to problems
- Scan the downloaded executable through Virus Total or scan locally with a second-opinion scanner prior to initiating an installation
20 thoughts on “The Best Freeware Download Sites”
What is your opinion about “FreewareFiles?”
In all honesty I haven’t had much to do with FreewareFiles. However, after a quick inspection of the site; it doesn’t appear to be overloaded with ads, correct download links are clearly identifiable, and warnings are given for downloads that include bundling and/or are ad-supported. On the surface, FreewareFiles appears to be a safe download site.
Nice of you to respond, Sir.
I am in the same mind as you when it comes to download sites, and I would believe that you have had to clean up some computer ‘messes’ caused people who have little or no experience in avoiding the ‘tangled webs of deceitful downloads’.
If you remember ‘way-back-when’, Claw always recommended Major Geeks.
You should also check out “Sumo” – https://www.kcsoftwares.com/?download – a very thorough check of your computer and one of the first sites to make available the new updates, much better than File Hippo.
If you have many updates to get, use “PatchMyPC” – https://patchmypc.com/, it checks your computer, downloads and installs all of them without any further effort on your part.
I do love MajorGeeks, I use their date of update & File size data (no consistency across the web) when I just need one or two updates. Softpedia is also an often used site, seem best to find programs by name. – Jmcgrat3
Sorry, but I am not understanding where you are coming from. Both SUMO and PatchMyPC are software updaters that need to be downloaded and installed themselves and only work with updating existing installations. In the context of this article, I fail to see the relevance.
Better at what Jim? FileHippo was mentioned purely on the basis of its terrific archive of older versions and you are comparing that to something that deals only with updating to new versions.
Apples and oranges.
This article touches an interesting topic. I have been using the internet since 1998, so I can surely call myself a veteran. But to this day I have not found one trustworthy download site!
For many many years I have been now using chip.de (I’m German), and they are reasonably honest if you know to how avoid their stupid “downloader”. Actually, many sites provide a downloader app instead of direct links, which is practically adware and for certain these come with an auto-start entry.
Often, when I google for free software, I get Softonic links, but to this day I think it is a scam site. One than lasted for at least a decade interestingly. More often than not they offer something for “free” which is clearly paid software. Obvioulsy I never downloaded such things, so I cannot tell if it actually works. You cannot trust even the best Antivir software to detect whatever latest malware they may attach.
This kind of dishonesty (stating something is “free” when infact it is shareware) is a major gripe I have with any download sites.
Anyways, I will try Softpedia, thanks to your recommendations. In the past I also trusted zdnet, not sure if they still exist.
What about snapfiles.com?
There’s nothing wrong with SnapFiles. It would probably be my #3. Ads are minimal, the download links are obvious, and they also issue a warning when installers include bundling or software is ad-supported. I would have no problem recommending downloading from SnapFiles.
I’ve always considered MajorGeeks as good-old-honest service and I still do, but after reading your article I went there and read the discussion about Reimage. There I noticed the Reimage article’s author saying “Malwarebytes is in the business of scaring you to buy their product.”
I think this is untrue. Malwarebytes is one of the good guys out there.
Did you notice all the “This comment was deleted” in the comments section? These are negative comments from people regarding Reimage Repair that MG is deleting. Curating comments like that so only positive comments are displayed and any negative comments are deleted is not good form.
Also, did you view the video I linked to in the article? It presents a firsthand, unbiased review of Reimage Repair, well worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXcAshytyPY
Wasn’t Reimage Repair listed as a daily giveaway on here or am I mistaken?
Not as far as I am aware Brian. In fact, DCT was offered an affiliation with Reimage Repair which we declined, even though it would have led to a very good revenue stream for us. We value our reputation above all.
Hey sorry for the late reply! Yes I did notice the deleted comments and the video from your article. You’re definitely right, that’s simply not the right way to deal with opposing views.
I’ve started read other articles in this site and really like it. It just landed on my bookmarks toolbar.
I can’t seem to see any daily giveaways on your website. Is there anything I can do to get the daily giveaway to work again? They were available just a few weeks ago. No changes to my computer except the regular updates from Microsoft. Win 10 Home, 2004, build 19041-450,
64 bit, 3.07 GBps, 1 TB HDD, 8 GB RAM. Thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide. Wade Keever
We’ve been experiencing a few issues with the site but that should all be fixed now. Can you now see the Daily Giveaways again? If not, some adblocker type browser extensions, such as Adblock Plus for example, will prevent the Daily Giveaways from loading properly. If you’ve installed any such extension you’ll need to disable it, at least temporarily, in order to see the Daily Giveaways.
Thanks, Jim. Everything seems to be working OK now.
Today I downloaded s/w from Major geeks and they snuck in some (probably harmless) programs that I am certain I would have caught during the install.
Could you please let me know what you downloaded from MajorGeeks and what came bundled with it?
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