This is really an ugly thing. A couple of comments on latest developments:
Mouser, I think you are absolutely right to remove your software. Have no regrets, please. Yes, there were reviews, downloads stats, search engine positioning factors. But ultimately you want your users to have a good experience or they won't be users for long. CNet is endangering that possibility and *violating your
trust with users*! That's inexcusable. They are essentially making an OpenCandy-esque bundling decision without your permission or even *compensation*.
And that for me is one of the most galling things about all this: they're making money off of people who have explicitly chosen to make their software available for free. Quite honestly I wonder in fact if this is even against the terms of many other *commercial* software publisher's free version licenses. For example something like Macrium Reflect, which comes in a free and commercial version. Surely they disallow people to make money off their free version, and would this not include download hosting as well? If not, I ought to setup a "premium download service" for Reflect right now and charge $5/head! So either CNet has thought of this and is giving kickbacks to some/commercial software publishers, or they've removed software that it would be an issue with, or they're going to be in some serious hot water at some point.
Not only that but, as Vlastimil pointed out, Downloads.com could actually be *competing* with the official pages for a lot of software simply by virtue of it being a familiar and/or iconic/generic name, and due to the star ratings, etc. Remember that if you're looking at a search for [name of software], your site is likely to come up tops, particularly if you disallow other (shady) places from hosting it. If someone is already looking for [your software name] in Google, then they should find *you*, not Downloads.com. It's a different story if e.g. Screenshotcaptor showed up on a search for "screenshot tool" or something, and downloads.com was #1 and DC #8 say. If that's the case then yes you've lost some, but I'm dubious that would be true simply because Downloads.com hosts lots of screenshot tools for one thing.
As for customizing CNet installers so that they display an anti-Cnet message or at least a "you can download this software without a toolbar here: [url], I think this is absolutely fair game and if you do decide to keep your software on there for whatever reason, I encourage you to do this. They may remove your software if they figure it out, but otherwise it would be a potent way to spread the word and punish CNet for this BS behavior. More fun could be had in bundling toolbar uninstallers with your app and auto-running that with your installer.
Basically CNet has declared war on free-without-strings, so all's fair, eh?
In regards to "the same basic model for profit" that mouser points out, I think there is a factor or a step missing: usually this happens when either the company gets bought out, management changes internally, or the business model they had to begin with proves unworkable. This happens especially when a previously moderately successful (or break-even) site gets artificially inflated value and gets bought by a company with unrelated or only marginally related interests, then gets eyeballed closely by the new owner for ever-increasing profits.
In the case of CNet, they have been through a lot of difficulty over time and have changed hands and management a few times. Last I heard, they were bought by CBS about 3 years ago. Now that's a while, granted, so it may not be a factor here, but likely the increasing challenges in SEo and web advertising have also played a part. Who knows if there was an internal management shift that also triggered this.
Anyway the point I wanted to make is that it is not necessarily directly correlated to "we have a successful site that we made successful because it was free, now let's milk it!", i.e. that it's not a direct step 1-3 thing with "profit" following immediately after success. Cnet and downloads.com have been around for *years* and have not done this kind of nastiness until this point. Why now? That's my point: there is a reason, and it's not that they have been planning this all along or whatever. *That* is the kind of conspiracy theory reasoning I'd like to see avoided.