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What To Avoid
First rule of thumb is: The larger the download, the less chance it will be any good.
Downloads can bloat for a number of reasons. They might be Visual Basic applications for example. In such case, avoid them like the plague. No serious programmer or software vendor uses Visual Basic. Visual Basic is for kids - for people who don't know how to program. It's a toy, a software package you can buy, rather than a programming language. If you see Visual Basic written all over a product description - move on. You're sure to find better elsewhere.
Delphi was long called the 'VB Killer' but why any company would want to compare its products to Visual Basic is beyond comprehension. In general, Delphi software will be just as bloated as Visual Basic offerings. The level of expertise might be a bit higher, but not significantly.
It's important to remember that the gap between a Visual Basic or Delphi programmer and a professional programmer is almost insurmountable. It takes years and lots of university degrees to become a professional programmer; it takes a solid foundation in college level mathematics; it takes a mind suited to the profession.
Anyone can pick up VB or Delphi at ComputerWorld and write a program - that's the whole idea: They're toys for amateurs. Avoid the Delphi and VB stuff like the plague.
Especially VB apps can be brutal on your Registry as well. Normally loaded with lame controls for lame tasks, these varmints want to write all over your Registry and register themselves. Getting these suckers out of there can be next to impossible. Count on major bloat not only to your file system, but to your Registry hive files.
Anything that even remotely smells of adware is to be avoided as well. And don't fall for that 'it's only used for the trial period, once you buy it's removed': Spyware is spyware is spyware. It won't work that way. Having spyware on your system is one of the best ways to screw up your box in a bad bad way. Spychecker is waging war on these parasites - before downloading anything, check with them to make sure the product you want is not listed there.
Second rule of thumb is: Don't trust anybody.
Be totally paranoid: You have reason to be. You have absolutely no control over an install program. If possible, pluck it apart with WinZip or a similar utility and peek inside. Try to see what it's going to be up to before you run it. Back up your system completely. Run InCtrl4 on it while you try the install. Check 'Uncle John's Rules' elsewhere at this site. Don't take a chance. Be prepared to clean your system thoroughly after an install - not by relying on the uninstall program, but by reverting to a previous image you yourself know is secure.
Conscientious software archives like Web Attack - where products are really tested, where reviews are not just a question of 'reading the back of the box' - clean their test machines thoroughly all the time. If these professionals don't trust anyone, why should you?
Next: What Is Good Software?