Manage Your Downloads Better With This Free Version of JDownloader
By Erez Zukerman
At a Glance
Automatically extracts downloads
Support for numerous file hosts
Timed downloads can begin unattended
Stock installer hijacks homepage and other things
Installer sets up incorrect shortcut in Start menu
JDownloader is a powerful and free Java-based download manager.
Most people use their Web browsers for downloading files, but a browser isn’t always the best tool for the job. If you are trying to download a YouTube video, or a very large file that may take hours, an external download manager might do a better job than your browser. JDownloader is one such download manager, and since it is Java-based, it works across Windows, Mac and Linux.
In JDownloader’s case, I must split the review into two parts: The installation experience, which is horrible by default (but better with the installer that vendor AppWork created for PCWorld), and the actual use of the application, which is quite nice. Let’s start with the installation: On its official website, JDownloader offers a WebInstaller, which is a compact installer that downloads the files needed for a complete installation. At first, stepping through the installer seemed like a trivial next-next-next affair. Fortunately, when the installer asked whether I want a “quick” or “custom” installation, I stopped to read. I then discovered that the “quick” installation hijacks the browser homepage, new tab page, and default search engines, pointing them at a site called Facemoods.com. This is one of the lowest forms of monetization, preying on users who do not bother to read the installer. I unchecked the offending options, and completed the installation. I then contacted AppWork concerning this issue, and they prepared a clean installer for PCWorld readers, which you can download exclusively from PCWorld. This installer does not hijack any browser defaults or gratuitously modify other system settings. It does just what it should do, which is set up JDownloader and then quit.
Once installed, JDownloader added a shortcut to the Windows 7 list of applications on the “outside” of the Start menu. Clicking the shortcut, however, simply ran an update utility–not JDownloader. I tried this twice, and the update utility ran both times, launching JDownloader only once it finished slowly checking for updates. To launch JDownloader directly, I had to open All Programs and track down the JDownloader shortcut there. Once I clicked that, JDownload ran correctly.
This concludes the bad part of the user experience. Once you’re in JDownloader, you have one of the world’s most sophisticated download managers at your disposal. JDownloader can be used as any general-purpose download manager, and it also supports dozens of file hosts such as RapidShare and others. It can monitor the clipboard and parse any URL you copy into it to see if it contains files that could be downloaded. If you feed it with a YouTube link, it lets you download the video in any resolution offered on the page.
JDownloader is built from the ground up to deal with file hosts that do not let you pause downloads; that’s why its “pause” functionality doesn’t actually pause the download altogether, but slows it to a crawl, letting you use your bandwidth as needed. It also has a built-in extension system, and extensions can be installed from within JDownloader itself (much like jEdit, a Java-based text editor). There are extensions for unzipping downloads automatically, scheduling downloads to begin at certain times, and more.
While I love JDownloader and I appreciate the fact that developer AppWork must somehow make money, I really can’t get behind the installer changing the homepage, default new tab page, and default search provider. Such tactics are traditionally reserved for the lowest of the low, which JDownloader is certainly not. I’m not saying you shouldn’t install it: It is one of the best download managers available today, and at a price that can’t be beat. But you should make sure you get the PCWorld installer, not the one from the JDownloader website. If you do try it and like it, consider donating to the developer…and letting them know how much you appreciate the installer that installs JDownloader alone.