If you are confused about downloads, what’s safe and what’s not; don’t feel alone. I get questions every week and a lot of cautious users just decide to ignore all popup download requests. Wish I could give you hard and fast rules, but the best I can do is some guidance.
It is OK to download and install stuff from the WWW just as it is OK to do online banking, but you must be alert and proceed using safe practices and common sense. Let me divide updates into three different categories: urgent, convenient and your choice.
Operating System Updates fit into the “urgent” category as they often are designed to make your PC more secure. Main Windows Updates are like clockwork always on the second Tuesday of the month, and sometimes again on the fourth Tuesday or even out of sequence. Most users should simply accept those or have them downloaded on Automatic. Updates to your AV software are equally important.
“Convenient” downloads are those that make it easy for you to do something that you enjoy on the Internet; I’ll use “view videos” as an example. Different kinds of videos require special software to facilitate playing on your particular PC using your browser of choice. Quick Time, Flash Player and others require that you download them prior to running certain videos. The complication comes by virtue of how often they have to be updated to stay current. They can be annoying, but are generally safe. To make matters more complex, you may have to install a different version to run in Internet Explorer or Firefox (the case with Flash player for example).
“Your choice” downloads include those that install software that you want to use for some particular task. Taking advantage of the many free software programs available for a variety of purposes would fall here and discretion is called for in this category. You don’t want to download from every Tom Dick and Harry who has a Website. Let me remind you that CNET, PCWorld and Gizmo’s Freeware offer great lists of legitimate, useful, free software. As far as choosing a download site; I recommend FileHippo and Ninite. If you don’t find the software you want on one of these sites, you may not need it.
I have not mentioned Ninite before, but I highly recommend it because it allows you to bundle together two or more software packages and run them consecutively without constant supervision. You simply choose the software from a categorized list and download a customized installer; then run the package like you were doing one installation. Their Website claims “Easiest, Fastest way to Update or Install Software: and they actually live up to that claim.