January 26, 2013, 7:30 AM — Even as Microsoft tries to popularize its Windows Store for PC apps, the market for Windows crapware remains alive and well.
A couple of stories have bubbled up recently about how lucrative the crapware business can be. It started with a post from TechCrunch about InstallMonetizer, a wrapper for Windows desktop software that presents "offers" to users after installation. For instance, users might see an offer to install a third-party browser toolbar or some anti-virus software. If the user agrees, the original software developer gets paid.
The idea of crapware installers isn't new. What's interesting about this particular example--aside from its seemingly contradictory privacy policies--is that it's backed by $500,000 in venture capital and supported by startup accelerator Y Combinator. Vince Mundy, CEO of InstallMonetizer, told TechCrunch that the software is profitable, and that it doubles its number of bundled software installations every two or three months. It's good to be a crapware pusher.
The story on InstallMonetizer stoked an even more interesting story by Long Zheng, who develops the Twitter client MetroTwit for Windows. On his blog, Zheng talked about a few of the offers he's received over the years to wrap crapware installers around MetroTwit.
One of these offers estimated that Zheng would earn $90,000 to $120,000 per year for participating. (Zheng refused, citing a strict policy not to install any third-party apps with MetroTwit.)
InstallMonetizer frames itself as a way to help small developers make money on their hard work. And in fairness, the company says screens its advertisers for potential adware and spyware history.
Still, no matter how safe the service is, there's no getting around the inherent sleaziness of a program that tries to pile toolbars and other unwanted junk on top of the thing you actually downloaded.
This is exactly why Windows needs its own app store, despite the protests of veteran users who loathe closed ecosystems. Though I hope Microsoft always allows Windows users to install desktop software, the best way fend off crapware is to also provide a controlled environment, such as the Windows Store, for users who want it. That way, users won't end up with unwanted software, and developers can tap into the store's existing systems for billing and in-app purchases, ideally leading to more sales.
The Windows Store is still young, and unlikely to cripple the crapware market any time soon. But hopefully it'll grow over time, pulling users away from unscrupulous desktop software and making the crapware business a little less lucrative.