Setting up a new PC can be a daunting task. Getting it out of the box and plugged in is the easy part. The challenge comes from tracking down all those little patches, utilities, and other minor software that you accumulated through the years on your old PC. Free utility DDownloads (free) helps you out by giving you easy access to hundreds of popular applications, tools, and utilities, directly from official sources.
It is tempting to compare DDownloads to Ninite, an online service that streamlines the installation of nearly 100 apps. What sets DDownloads apart is that has a larger selection of software (500 vs Ninite's 94), and it gives you far more control over the installation because, by default, it does not automate app installation. This can be especially important if your PC has an SSD drive, in which case you may prefer to install applications somewhere other than the default location.
The application opens to a home screen that gives you quick access to basic features, such as the various software categories, and advanced features such as silent installation and batch installation. The Windows Starter Kit provides you with a list of links for very common apps and utilities such as Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Microsoft .NET and Silverlight, Oracle Java runtimes, and so on.
When browsing the application databases, clicking the name of an application will show the URL for the download page in the bottom-right corner. Some applications do not allow direct links to the download, so instead DDownloads sends the URL to your Web browser, and your browser will then download the file. If you are the suspicious type, you can right-click the application name and select "Copy Download Link to Clipboard" and manually paste it into your Web browser. If the link is dead, you can use the handy "Copy App Name to Clipboard" function to try to track the app down the old-fashioned way.
DDownloads offers several advanced features as well. While it primarily lists software from a list provided by DDownloads.net, you can also add your own favorites to the list. If an application allows silent installation, DDownloads makes it very simple to do so. Technicians will be pleased to find a list of free testing apps, such as Memtest86+ and WireShark.
The organization of the apps in DDownloads can be a little confusing, and the sparse documentation doesn't help. However, after consulting with the author, I received some clarification.
There are three major download lists: "Get Apps," "Portable Apps," and "Slim Apps." Apps in the "Get Apps" section are general-audience applications. Installers are linked when available, but some apps don't have installers so an archive file (like ZIP) is linked instead. Apps in the "Portable Apps" section are self-contained apps meant to be run directly off a USB thumb drive without needing an installer of any kind. Lastly, apps in the "Slim Apps" section are apps that are not ad-supported in any way, and do not install third-party toolbars.
Besides the sparse documentation, the only other complaint I have is that the advanced features are not very easy to use. As an example, suppose you want to perform a silent install of Exact Audio Copy, a free and easy-to-use CD ripping tool. First, you download the app, which arrives with a filename eac-1.0beta3.exe. Then you move that file to the DInstalls folder in the DDownloads directory. Next you have to rename it to "Exact Audio Copy.exe," and then you can use DDownloads to perform the silent install automatically. These instructions are found in a readme.txt file included with DDownloads, but otherwise are not provided anywhere else. In a recent update, an autodetect feature was added to the Install Manager that eliminates the need to rename the installer filename, but it still has to be done manually.
These rough edges, while potentially frustrating, are pretty common with any new software, and DDownloads is just getting started. The application list grows as more users contribute their suggestions, and the developer is very responsive when it comes to fixing issues. As the project continues to mature, I expect the documentation to improve and the advanced features to become smoother to use; but even in its current state, DDownloads is an excellent tool.
This story, "DDownloads Review: Get software directly from the vendor with a single click" was originally published by PCWorld.
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