User Tools

Site Tools

musings:tech:misc:driverguide’s Not-so-surprising Scammy Tactics

This article was originally published on April 3, 2013.

Update May 31, 2014

It looks like Driver Guide removed the ability to use alternate browser agents to bypass their adware-infested downloader. Very disappointing, to say the least.

Don't use driver download sites like this!

Unless you're in a situation similar to my own back in 2013, looking for a driver you absolutely cannot find anywhere else, avoid DriverGuide and similar websites.

Most drivers can be found on the hardware manufacturer's website, but if you're having trouble finding what you need, you can check out PCMatic's driver database and Microsoft's searchable Windows Update Catalog.

I recently found myself in need of a driver for Mac OS 9. Since the hardware I was using was ancient and from a now-defunct company and OS 9 is equally ancient, this task was much easier Googled than actually completed.

After a lot of searching, I had to admit defeat and use the much-maligned Driver Guide to get the driver.

Now, I primarily use Windows at home. I have machines that run Linux, OS X, and old versions of the Mac OS, but for the most part, I use Windows 7. Note that the website tells me that only “Premium Members” get access to direct downloads, for the low, low price of only $15 a year. Otherwise, I have to use their “helpful” installer tool.

Although there’s a checkbox to disable the installer, this actually just displays a popup informing you that for “only” $2.99, you can buy the direct download.

Now, as a Windows user, this is your only choice. So, if you download the installer and run it, you are presented with what looks like a tool for downloading the file.

Don’t get me wrong – download tools have their uses. Microsoft used to use a downloader application to handle downloading large ISOs from TechNet. You could use direct download links, but I found that Microsoft’s tool was noticeably faster and, since it didn’t contain any malware, I had no problems with using it.

This is a different story.

Once you get past the first screen informing you that you’re about to download your file, you are presented with this:

How nice! A quick option! After all “Advanced” options in most installers are for people who know what they’re doing. Unfortunately, in this case, the “Advanced” option is really just your only route to opt-out of installing a crap toolbar that hijacks your browser’s default search engine, home page, AND new tab page.

So, skip past that, then…

This is one that really drives me mad – sneaking in additional malware by making the “Accept” button for the malware visually appear like “continue” or “next” in your installer. If you click “Accept”, this takes you to the next step – but it also will install adware on your machine that will hijack your browser and puke “coupons” all over the place when you’re browsing the web.

If you’ve managed to make it this far without throwing your computer out the window we’re now on the third attempt to slide malware, adware, and/or general crapware in with the driver you want or need.

Another don’t-forget-to-uncheck-the-box screen – and keep in mind, once you click “Next”, you can’t go back.

Browse Android apps from my desktop? Really? What I don’t even have an Android device? This one is even worse on the visual cues – the green button is labeled “Next Step”, while the gray “Decline” button will still take you to the next step, but skip the adware.

By the way, for those keeping score – we’re on our FIFTH crapware screen.

And, finally, we get to the point where the software actually downloads the file – without letting you choose where to save your download.

When you click “Next Step” and then the “Close” button to exit the downloader, it adds one last jab into the mix by popping up a new browser window begging you to buy their premium membership.

All in all, this is a ridiculous process just to get a driver. The worst part is that, in many cases, the driver in question can be obtained free of charge and without the bullshit directly from the hardware manufacturer. I had no choice in my particular situation because the driver I needed was, unfortunately, impossible to find anywhere else.

However, all this being as it is, the real kicker is that Driver Guide doesn’t force this on non-Windows users. All you have to do is change your browser’s user agent string, which for Firefox can be accomplished through an extension like Override User Agent. If you switch your user agent to a search bot, Safari (which changes the OS to OS X), or a mobile device, the checkbox is gone, and the site magically will let you download your file directly.

I have some pretty serious beef with this. In the end-user computing world, this kind of behavior is more or less equivalent to the predatory lending practices that got banks into serious trouble and ruined peoples’ lives. Sure, several rounds of crapware just to access a single file won’t ruin your life, but for your average uninformed user, it’s going to cause a lot of headaches with a device they use daily.

Can you imagine if you had to plaster advertising stickers all over your car just to be allowed to get gas – or pay a highly inflated fee per gallon to avoid becoming a moving billboard? That concept is ridiculous. Unfortunately, a site as long-running and established as Driver Guide is more interested in underhanded, predatory advertising tactics than providing a useful service to their customers.

I have more respect for shady file hosting sites that have slower download speeds for “non-premium” users than this kind of behavior. At least with those sites, all you have to do is see a couple annoying ads in your browser – which can easily be blocked with something like AdBlock Plus – to get the files you want.

I’m thoroughly disappointed and frustrated by this. I’m not remotely surprised, but that doesn’t change the fact that this kind of behavior is pretty despicable. I’d like to see more users bring to light questionable advertising tactics like this, but I know that won’t happen any time soon.

In the meantime, if you find yourself with no choice but to get something from Driver Guide, just switch your user agent to something non-Windows so you can access the file without all the fat.