Dark Patterns – More on “Free” software

Free Lemonade
Free Lemonade

At my lemonade stand I used to give the first glass away free and charge five dollars for the second glass. The refill contained the antidote.

— Emo Phillips

As a follow up to our last post on the high cost of free software, it’s probably worth discussing the related topic of dark patterns in the user interface of software products and web sites.  Essentially, dark patterns refer to the intentional use of user interface elements that are designed to you “trick” you into doing something you probably didn’t intend to do.

And why would a web site or software publisher want do this?  Most often, it’s to get you to click on a link for a paid advertisement.

For example, many “free” download sites serve ads that look like real download buttons, but actually download software that have nothing to do with what you were searching for.  Here’s a real screen shot showing what comes up for a search for “Adobe Reader”:


Many users would logically just click on either of the “Free Download” buttons (which also use the label “Start Download”).  After all, all 3 buttons on the page look the same – same size and shape, same green color, a little download arrow on the left…  But one is different.  The two “Free Download” buttons take you to an advertiser’s site so that you can download their products, not Adobe Reader.  And the site hosting the “free” software gets paid a commission for this link – even though it didn’t do what you though it would.  Only if you look closely and find the link that says “Visit Site” are you directed to the read Adobe Reader download.

This example shows a web site doing this type of dark pattern interface, but it can also be embedded within the interface of a “free download” product. If you’re curious to see other examples, go to the Dark Patterns web site and browse the different examples that other users have submitted.  And if you need to download a product like Adobe Reader, it is always safest to go directly to the publisher’s web site to obtain the download.

Just another reminder why “free” sometimes isn’t free.  And why companies like ours only charge you for the lemonade, not the antidote…

The High Cost of “Free” Software

Adware.  Spyware.  Malware.  Bloatware. [Link goes to another good blog post on this subject].  These are all names for software that are secretly installed on your computer when you download so-called ‘free’ software programs.  Our recommendation?

Be aware and beware!  Just look at this example of an Internet Explorer window riddled with toolbars that have been included with other software downloads.

Example of Internet Explorer overwhelmed with extra tool bars, often loaded by 'free' software
Example of Internet Explorer overwhelmed with extra tool bars, often loaded by ‘free’ software

It may look extreme, but if you’ve seen these types of toolbars or unwanted pop-up windows appear on your computer, it’s quite likely that they piggy-backed on some other ‘free’ software that you downloaded.

As a developer of commercial Windows software, we get offers and inquiries almost weekly from other companies who wish to include their software bundled into our installer.  While we always decline such arrangements (Win2PDF is 100% free of any adware/spyware), this is a typical model that many providers of ‘free’ software use to make money.  After all, it costs money to develop, support, and host software applications:  Web hosting, security, development and version control software, live chat and other technical support software all have costs.  As does having to maintain multiple computers with different operating systems and servers for testing.  And staff.  Let’s not forget about actually having real people in place to create, test, and support the software.  Even a lone programmer working in their own basement needs some revenue to create and make their software available.

Google Search for 'PDF Writer'

If you perform a Google search of “PDF Writer” (see image to the right), the top result is for a “100% Free!” solution.

This is actually an Ad Supported download wrapper for the CutePDF software program, which is also Ad Supported.  If you follow the link to download, you’ll end up with at least 5 extra programs on your PC.  Do you know what these programs do?  Will they slow down your PC, or make it unstable?  Will it collect and transmit any personal information about you or your browsing history?  

If you don’t know, is it still worth it for the ‘free’ software?

Idealware.org posted a useful article on many of these same issues, along with questions to ask yourself when considering these free or low-cost software options.  For example,

    • If it’s truly ‘free’, how does the company afford to advertise it on Google or Bing?  Or pay to host the downloads?
    • Do the companies who make these downloads available even produce their own software, or are they just bundling other ‘free’ solutions?
    • Are you downloading directly from the publisher’s web site, or though a 3rd party site?  3rd parties often add downloaders that can add spyware.  Hint: It’s safer to download directly from the publisher!
    • Will it work in future versions of Windows, or with new service packs or updates?  Who do you contact if you have a problem or question?
    • How trustworthy is the publisher?
    • Do they offer independent reviews [Win2PDF example] on their products?
    • Do they list company information [Win2PDF example] on their web site?
    • Are they a member of the Better Business Bureau, and if so, what is their rating [Win2PDF example]?

Here’s a review of www.pdflite.com, one of the other companies that advertises on Google for the search word ‘PDF Writer’.  By contrast, here’s the review of www.win2pdf.com.  Can you guess which one is ‘free’?

Our company does not make ‘free’ software.  We charge for our products, and guarantee our products with a full 60-day return policy.  This allows us to say No to 3rd party spyware/adware publishers, and it provides the revenue we need to continue developing, supporting, and enhancing our products for the future.  We have a loyal customer base and we’ve been able to operate a successful business since 2000.

So, it’s up to you to decide what’s best for your needs.  Just know that there usually isn’t such a thing as ‘free’ software.  There’s usually a cost somewhere – just know what that cost is before installing it on your PC.

And always remember, be careful what you download.

VDI Management: In-house and In-the-cloud

As a follow up to our previous posting, we thought we’d link to some additional resources on Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).  In particular, how are VDI solutions being managed today, and where is this technology going in the future?  And how can you use Win2PDF with VDI to expand PDF functionality across more platforms and devices?

VDI in the Cloud
VDI in the Cloud (image from Virtual Bridges)

There are a couple of different ways of managing a Virtual VDI implementation – either hosting the infrastructure components in-house or hosting them in the cloud.  We won’t go into all of the details in this  post, but we did think it useful to share some resource links to the major vendors in this area.

The most common way VDI management is handled today is to have each enterprise host both the hardware and software in a centralized location.  This can be pricey (since the company needs to buy all the hardware and software components), complex, and difficult to manage from a load-balancing and performance perspective.  Organizations utilizing this type of approach probably use a solution from one of the major players in the VDI software space and you can find more information about each following the links listed below:

The second, newer way VDI solutions are managed are by utilizing a cloud-based service.  In addition to the providers listed above, a relatively new entrant into this space is Amazon.com, with their Amazon WorkSpaces product.  The following video provides a good overview of how their cloud hosted VDI solution differs from the traditional in-house solution.

Amazon’s hosting infrastructure could be a game changer in the way enterprises deploy VDI.  It allows organizations an easy way to support Windows apps on non-Windows devices, such as Android or iPad tablets.  And, as user mobility becomes increasingly common, the ability to support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) technologies will only become more important.  Providing secure application access on any device is the ultimate goal.

Whether enterprises move their VDI management to the cloud in serious numbers still remains to be seen, but it is an interesting option for companies that want to get started without the upfront cost and complexity.  Our Win2PDF products support both the tradition in-house VDI solutions and the new Amazon WorkSpaces product.  It’s a great way to provide the ability to generate PDF files to any BYOD user.

Using PDF Software with VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) Solutions

Recently we’ve been getting some questions about using Win2PDF in a virtualized desktop environment. Specifically, how can customers license and install Win2PDF in this type of configuration.

The good news is that Win2PDF is supported and it works the same as in the traditional individual PC environment. Before we get into the specifics, we should provide a little overview to this topic. What exactly is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), or as it is also called, Desktop Virtualization?

Traditionally, a typical corporate IT department will manage a large number of physical PCs. Each employee may have a desktop or laptop PC (or both), and loaded onto each PC are operating systems, service packs, anti-virus software, office applications, printer drivers, and a host of other computer programs. For large organizations in particular, maintaining this type of computer environment can be quite challenging since the applications are installed specific to the hardware of each PC. And each user may update or upgrade applications at different rates, creating a patchwork of different versions for applications on different PCs.  And if a computer fails, the user may lose data or be offline for a period of time.

This is where VDI becomes useful. Essentially, it is a way of easily managing user desktops by using software that separates the desktop and associated applications from the physical client device that is used to access it. Since the desktops are not dependent on the physical hardware of each PC, the IT department can create a standard image that contains the desired operating system version and all of their applications.  A VDI service then connects users to virtual machines running the standard image.

Desktop Virtualization Benefits
Desktop Virtualization Benefits

The advantages of this type of configuration are numerous. Rather than trying to keep track of each individual PC with all of its changing applications and versions, IT only needs to manage the central image. When a new update or application becomes available, they can test it and upgrade all users simultaneously by updating this central image.

It is also useful for backup and disaster recovery. Again, if a particular computer hardware component fails, no data will be lost since the application data is all stored in the virtualized desktop environment. A new PC can be inserted and the user can login and continue working without any interruption or loss of data.

Now, back to Win2PDF: How does Win2PDF fit into this type of VDI environment? Basically, it works the same as in the traditional individual PC environment. Each virtual desktop will require a license of our standard Win2PDF or Win2PDF Pro software.  For large organizations, we provide volume license pricing and a volume license installer to facilitate the deployment, so it is still easy to manage many licenses.

VDI may not be for everyone, but we’ve seen a definite interest in this technology, especially with our larger enterprise customers.  If you have any specific questions about your own deployment of Win2PDF in this type of environment, let us know.

New Win2PDF update supports Windows 8.1

Our latest update to Win2PDF (Version 7.6) now supports the new Windows 8.1 operating system update.

Win2PDF 8.1
Win2PDF 8.1

This is a free update to registered users of Win2PDF 7 or later, and the updates can be downloaded and installed from our web page here:


In addition to the Windows 8.1 support, this update also includes the Win2PDF Desktop App, which provides easy access to the Win2PDF PDF conversion process and supports drag and drop functionality. During the initial installation of Win2PDF 7.6 you will be prompted to add (or not) this optional add-on.

Win2PDF Desktop App Setup
Win2PDF Desktop App Prompt During Setup

For more information about the Win2PDF Desktop App, please see our official documentation here:

How to use the Win2PDF Desktop App

And, as always, if you have any questions about the new Win2PDF 7.6 software, you can go to the Win2PDF Technical Support Page.

Windows 8.1 Preview

On June 26th, Microsoft will release a free 8.1 update to its Windows 8 operating system.  Here’s the preview video demonstrating the new features in 8.1.

New 8.1 features at a glance:

    • Improved Personalization.  You’ll be able to view pictures on lock screen like a digital photo frame.  It will also provide more background images and colors for the Start screen, more tile sizes, and moving backgrounds.
    • Enhanced Search. The search charm will provide global search results using Bing.  The search results will be displayed in an app-like experience, allowing to to find information on both your local PC or tablet as well as the internet as a whole.
    • App Improvements. For example, the Photos app will now include basic editing features, and there will be better support of multiple app viewing.  An “All Apps” screen will appear when you swipe up from the main Start screen.
    • Improved cloud connectivity using SkyDrive. With 8.1, you’ll be able to save files directly to your SkyDrive cloud file storage account from any app.
    • Internet Explorer 11.  IE11 has improvements for page loading speed and touch performance.

For Win2PDF users, there aren’t any changes with this new operating system update, but we will be adding a Win2PDF Desktop app to the Windows 8 store soon (we’ll provide more details when it’s available).

If you are a Win2PDF user and are new to Windows 8, please feel free to check our our Windows 8 support topics using the links below:

Editing a PDF file with Adobe Reader – Part 2

In our last post we looked at the new annotation features in Adobe Reader XI.  Those features are useful if you need to makes comments or markup a PDF file.  But what if you want to extract pages from a PDF file, or rearrange the pages, or combine multiple PDF files together into one document.

Win2PDF can be used with  Adobe Reader (or any other PDF viewing application) to accomplish these tasks.  You’ll essentially need to open a existing PDF file in Adobe Reader and print a range of pages to Win2PDF.  If you print just a simple range of pages once, you can “extract” pages.  If you print a series of different pages and then merge them together in a new file, you can “rearrange” the PDF.  Or, if you print an entire PDF and append the results to a different PDF file, you can effectively “merge” the two files together.

Print a range of pages from Adobe Reader
Print a range of pages from Adobe Reader

To see a detailed description of each Win2PDF procedure, please visit our support pages here:

Editing a PDF file with Adobe Reader XI – Part 1

One question that we frequently get is: ‘How can I edit a PDF file‘?

To answer this question, it first depends on exactly what you mean by ‘edit‘.  Do you need to make changes directly to the PDF itself to remove or replace text/images?  Or do you just need to make comments on an existing PDF file?  For example, what if you just needed to markup or make comments on a PDF file that a coworker sent you to review?

To do advanced editing (removing or changing text/images) you will need a full-blown PDF editing software program; the most popular software is the full Adobe Acrobat product.  This can be expensive, however.

If you just want to make comments or markup a PDF file to return for review, then the better alternative is to use the new annotation features that are available in the free Adobe Reader XI software.  In this latest incarnation of Adober Reader, you’ll have access to a full set of commenting and markup tools, including sticky notes, a freehand drawing tool, and typewriter, highlight, underline, and strikethrough tools.

Here is a short video that describes the annotation features in Adobe Reader XI.

You can also read an interesting overview of other Reader XI features at Adobe’s Reader blog.

CD or not CD… That is the question

131/365 [cd stack]More and more software companies are eliminating CDs and DVDs for product distribution, and turning to an electronic download model.  Just recently, Adobe released plans to eliminate boxed copies of its popular Creative Suite software.

It’s not just due to cost, either.  True, it’s much cheaper for a software company to deliver software this way, but it’s also more convenient for the customer.  Consider the following:

  • Most Microsoft Windows operating system updates are already delivered electronically, especially for security fixes.
  • Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware software products depend on electronic distribution to quickly update and patch security software.
  • Many new laptops, netbooks and tablets don’t even have a CD or DVD drive, which is also decreasing the need for boxed software.
  • Software companies (like us) can quickly deliver fixes and enhancements to customer reported issues as soon as they become available.
  • New products, add-ons, and utilities can also be provided as they become available.  For example, our last blog post announced availability of our new Win2PDF Desktop product.

We’ve always used an electronic distribution model for these reasons.  Our latest hotfix releases of Win2PDF can be accessed on our Win2PDF Updates support page*.  Our add-on utilities — such as the Win2PDF Mail Helper, Win2PDF Admin Utility, and Win2PDF Desktop — can be found at our Win2PDF Add-On support page.

*  If you purchased Win2PDF before November, 2009, you will need to purchase an upgrade to Win2PDF 7 to get the latest hotfixes.

And, if you still want to make a backup copy of your software, at least with our Win2PDF software, you can easily copy the Win2PDF setup program along with a text file containing your license code to a thumb drive, CD/DVD, or to the cloud (see our round-up of cloud storage services here).

We recommend always getting the latest and greatest versions available, and those can typically be found easily at each vendor’s web site.  If you have any questions about updating or re-installing our Win2PDF software, please contact us at our support page and we’ll be happy to assist you.

‘Win2PDF Desktop’ Beta – Drag & Drop Functionality for Win2PDF

We’re looking for feedback on a new add-on product to Win2PDF called Win2PDF Desktop.

What is it?  Well, basically it’s an icon that sits on your desktop and allows you to drag and drop files to create a PDF.  Normally, since Win2PDF installs as a printer, you would need to open another application (like Word, Excel, etc.) and then choose print.  This eliminates that extra step.

Win2pdf desktop

Download Win2PDF Desktop Beta today and if you encounter any issues or questions, send an email at [email protected].

If you download it, here’s a couple of notes on its usage:

  • Win2PDF Desktop Beta does require a working copy of Win2PDF to work.  When you install it, it will automatically download and install a copy of Win2PDF (if you do not already have it installed).  
  • Drag a file (or multiple files) onto the Win2PDF Desktop icon to create a PDF file.  It will open and print the default application associated with the file type (e.g., a .DOC file will open with Microsoft Word, an .XLS file will open with Microsoft Excel, etc.).  It will prompt you for where to save the file and for the name.  If you want save the PDF file without prompting, you can use the Win2PDF Auto-name capability.
  • If you double-click on the icon, it will prompt you to select a file on your hard drive.  Again, it will open and print using the default application associated with that file type.
  • If you right-click on a file in the Windows Explorer or the desktop, you can choose Send to…  –> Win2PDF Desktop
  • If you have an image (.jpg, .gif, etc.) saved to your clipboard and you double-click on the Win2PDF Desktop icon, it will convert the image to a PDF file.

We’ll have more details and documentation about the final Win2PDF Desktop product once we get some field testing completed, but feel free to give it a try today and let us know what you think.