As I write this column, I immediately wonder if the situation is so dire that I have to actually define freeware and shareware. I hope not.
Freeware and shareware rode a wave of popularity and success in the 1980s, as providers got rich sitting back and collecting donations for their coding efforts. But over time, the simple model that gave us all sorts of cool utilities, add-ons, and entire suites of software changed drastically. It forked into a number of new models, most of which were designed to get more money.
One of the most onerous models was crippleware, which limited file size or how often and long you could use it, etc. Parallel to this was nagware, which relentlessly reminded you to buy the software as you were using it. This sort of technique is still used by free anti-virus software providers, which want you to upgrade and add features you may or may not want.
All this is a nuisance, but nothing like the plague of misdirection download services. This particular trick stems from sketchy companies doing deals with download sites to get people to accidentally download crapware, or software that ostensibly provides a handy feature but is often infected with malware. Download sites are also often littered with a slew of fake buttons that make it easy to download the wrong thing. I've looked at some of these sites and wonder why the FTC doesn't go after these folks.
Some of this software, for example, will serve you unwanted ads carefully planted on legitimate sites in places where there is not supposed to be an ad. Advertisers that use these ad agencies should be ashamed of themselves, although I believe few even know it's actually happening.
Even individual vendors have set up shop with these folks as a way to make money for their legitimate product. So you are inconvenienced by the crapware, so what? You're a cheap bastard anyway. That is how they think.
The shining star in all this is Sourceforge, where the good fight is still being fought. No scams, no misdirections, and an amazing amount of very high-quality products along with beta gems being polished. There is nothing quite like it. My advice is to go there and look for those handy utilities before looking anywhere else. Freeware is not yet fully dead as long as these folks keep this site alive.