/ Technology

Just say no to pre-installed PC ‘bloatware’

Cartoon blowfish

Earlier this week a Firefox exec launched a scathing attack on software companies that install stealth plug-ins on your web browser. It’s a reminder that ‘bloatware’ is still the bane of computing.

Bloatware – also known as ‘crapware’ or ‘shovelware’ – comes in all shapes and sizes, and as Asa Dotzler of Mozilla Firefox recently discovered, the likes of Microsoft, Google and Apple aren’t averse to littering your web browser with it either.

It isn’t necessarily malicious or dangerous, it’s just a massive waste of time, space and money. It’s about time the PC industry dealt with it properly.

A problem as old as the CD

It’s not as if they haven’t had the time. For instance, the word ‘shovelware’ was penned at the advent of the CD, when software peddlers crammed hundreds of programs onto a single CD. Imagine ‘Now That’s What I Call A Software Compendium 1994’ and you’re most of the way there – lots of naff rubbish.

Of course, the CD isn’t the source of such drivel these days – the internet is far more effective. If you can think of a problem, someone has probably created a software solution for it. Some of it is great (and free) but most of it is at best ropey and at worst pure snake oil.

In fairness, though, unless a program is unwittingly attached to something else – like the web browser plug-ins found by Dotzler – it’s up to you whether you download and install software from the internet.

But if you’re looking for the real culprits, it’s the PC manufacturers that are to blame.

If it’s pre-installed, you probably don’t need it

It’s astonishing how much rubbish comes pre-installed on Windows PCs. All too often manufacturers install ‘custom’ software that does little more than replicate functions already present in Windows, and more often than not, to a lower standard.

All this crud merely slows PCs down, particularly their start-up times, and does little to enhance the user experience. No wonder people continue to flock to Apple computers.

So what can be done about it? At the very least it’s worth examining any new PC you buy, and removing software you don’t think you’ll need.

However, in the future, maybe the app stores that you see on your mobile phones could make downloading new software a far better experience. Apple and Microsoft plan to launch computer app stores in future, and hopefully they won’t allow ‘fart apps’ to sneak their way in.

Comments
Profile photo of richard
Member

Completely agree – I remove the poor quality software supplied by Microsoft instantly I but a new computer and install the excellent shareware equivalents such as Firefox and Thunderbird. A massive problem with Microsoft software is it is wide open to viruses and hacking. Other software is far less prone to attack. and better,
This is also true when you buy a program suite – it is often installs inferior software as a part of that suite.

I only install software I will use (however rarely) and remove the rest.

Profile photo of terfar
Member

Why does everyone knock Microsoft like this. Look at it this way, Microsoft provide an OS with which a single install can provide the user with most of thee utilities he/she needs.

ALL other utilities are just as prone to virus attacks because virus writers are nutters that like to make your life miserable. They don’t hold a grudge against one software provider: they want everyone’s life to be miserable. It’s in their nature.

You personal preference may be for FireFox, but it isn’t as good as Chrome. You confuse personal preference and ‘Internet bad information’ with facts.

Profile photo of richard
Member

Err…… If “everyone” knocks Microsoft – then maybe they – and I – have a point.haven’t we?

Sorry all software are not just as prone to virus attacks – because Microsoft programs are far easier to hack – and – there are far more computer illiterates using the poor quality software supplied by MS. Users who use other software are normally far more computer aware.

Hate to point out that Chrome is not a Microsoft product – but issued by Google – which rather proves the point . I said nothing detrimental about Chrome. only that Mozilla products are better than MS.

M/S is not the only producers of poor products – Two others I know are Norton and Nero – both which were unnecessarily difficult to remove.

For your information – I have been using computers since 1950 – repeat 1950 – when they were IBM main frames or people – then used “mini” main frames such as ICL 2400 – then I used the new “PC’s” BBC A and Research Machines in 1980 before the Internet was invented – where fully operational programmes only used 16Kb of memory with instant switch on. Since which time I have helped run a computer club – where we often get newcomers failing to cope with Windows products – yet able to cope with the non Windows products that are not free – but have a smaller footprint and run faster.

I taught Computing and wrote programmes in various languages – from machine code onwards – When IBM decided to get in the act and opt for M/S DOS O/S i was happy as it was completely under my control – Then M/S decided on Windose which was to compete with Apple’s superior graphics. That was when bloat began and speed reduced..

Since that time M/S has dumped /hidden programs without giving an option – hence the EU directive to cease.- causing personal computers to need to increase memory from 16Kb to 1 Gigabites
to cope with the bloated programs.

So it is not due to me confusing “preference and ‘Internet bad information’ with facts” But sixty years experience with computers!!!!

Member
Anon says:
3 December 2010

Dell are terrible when it comes to pre installed crapware

Profile photo of Andy Vandervell
Member

Really? My experience of Dell is that – in recent times at least – they’re one of better manufacturers out there on this point. Acer and Toshiba are the worst offenders in my book – lots of useless junk is installed on their stuff be default.

Profile photo of fat sam
Member

Agree with Richard, M$ seem to be one of the worst culprits. You can’t even remove Internet Explorer. Windows Updates seem to eat up valuable hard drive space and software writers probably don’t give a flying fig about removing old stuff and making their programs leaner.

Also, check how many versions of Sun’s Java you have. If you’ve updated recently chances are you still have more than one, possibly 3 or 4, each taking up a whopping 7-800MB. Sun’s reason? In case you navigate to a site that uses the older version. Brilliant 🙁

Then you get those ‘We will install Google/Yahoo/McAfee taskbar in your browser. If you do not want this useless bit of carpware then please do not untick this box’. Eh, do what?!

But the worst culprits are the ones that continue to run in the background even after you’ve ‘closed’ them. Not great if you’re a poor mug like me running a laptop with Vista on it.

Profile photo of Andy Vandervell
Member

Peronally I think MS aren’t the worst offenders out there. Internet Explorer is an integral part if the operating system – even if you use a different browsers, it’s there as a fall back and doesn’t eat up resources if it’s not being used.

As you say, the real offenders are those programs that run in the background and don’t do a great deal – apart from use up space in your memory that would better used elsewhere.

Member

The problem is … how do I know which is essential for the running of the computer and which isn’t … I’m no techie … I take on faith that what I get is what I need for the thing to work ???

Profile photo of Andy Vandervell
Member

On a general level, do you use it? If it’s a piece of software, a simple one that doesn’t run in the background of perform important tasks, all you need ask yourself is whether you use it. If you don’t, lost it. If you do, even if only now and then, then it’s worth keeping.

Profile photo of redheadpeter
Member

You need to be a bit careful with this approach. I have a piece of software pre-installed that controls overclocking and other things on my motherboard. It lets me check the temperature of the system and the CPU and triggers alarms if they get too hot. Uninstalling this could cost nearly £200 worth of multi-core CPU!

Profile photo of Andy Vandervell
Member

True, but then how many people overclock their PCs these days?

Profile photo of mark
Member

I don’t know of any CPUs available nowadays that can overheat. They all have inbuilt logic to slow down or shutdown if they get hot.

Member
Mr B says:
7 December 2010

I don’t really understand the point of this article.

Bloatware (or the huge increase in application program sizes over the last few decades) is driven by two main industry trends, and the net effect is that basically bloatware is here to stay!

1) H/w (CPU, memory, storage) has become massively cheaper and s/w (or application development time) has become proportionally more expensive.
So it’s much cheaper and quicker for a programmer to use an application dev tool that creates larger apps rather than have the programmer spending time coding from scratch and optimising the app for efficient memory/CPU usage.

2) Commercial demands are for s/w to continually increase the number of features so they can be competitive.

But who cares about this? The accusation in this article seems to be that it occupies space and slows down your PC.
Well space (in terms of memory and disk storage) is growing cheaper by the day so that shouldn’t be an issue.

But I don’t understand the accusation that all this pre-installed s/w slows down your PC.
Poor quality s/w might be slow but it has nothing to do with how big it is.

If your PC is new and it runs slowly then the chances are that there is a fault or you haven’t bought a fast enough PC for your particular resource-intensive application e.g. video editing etc.
All new PCs are plenty fast enough for normal tasks e.g. document creation, web browsing. email etc.

If the PC is more than several months old and it has significantly slowed down then it is likely to be suffering from “Windows rot” (something that Windows 7 seems to be much better at) and then a reinstall is likely to be the only solution.

Profile photo of Andy Vandervell
Member

‘Bloatware’ is a pejorative term less for programs that are large and/or slow, but more specifically software that’s pre-installed on computers when buy it that is simply unnecessary, and of poor quality. For example, Acer still installs its own Media Center-style application on its laptops, despite Windows Media Center being an outstanding and far superior piece of software.

Needless repetition = bloatware.

You’re right, though, that generally software has got larger as it’s got more complex – and that this isn’t a bad thing. Our modern PCs are designed to deal with this, after all. My problem is with the stuff that serves no meaningful purpose, other than to create some sense of ‘additional value’ – real of otherwise.

Profile photo of chris
Member

Quote: “Why does everyone knock Microsoft like this.”

Good O/S
but IE6/7/8 are lousy browsers.
Reason is they are bloated with redunadant code and very slow in reality.
Now if you want a fully featured and fast browser, it would be Firefox, maybe Opera, but its not often so stable.

Chrome is cut-down browser and as such is like comparing a Jag with a Fiat Panda.
They both work, but one has a few extra features and is safer and a more comfy ride.

Want to know what IE8 is?
Range Rover (or Strange Rover as we called it, when I had one briefly)
ie popular; but the most unreliable vehicle ever made, over sized and inappropriate for the normal highway.

Trust me –
(Expert) PC Tutor

Profile photo of RonAtkinson
Member

I’m not as computer erudite as some of the correspondents but, having recently bought a Hewlet Packard laptop, recognise the criticism. The installed programmes are constantly asking me to download/use stuff which I don’t want. Because each element of the stuff I do want has to be installed separately there is lots of scope for this irritating intrusion. It’s a far cry from the day, 6 years ago, when my new PC with Windows XP fired up and worked straight from the box without extraneous stuff.

[Hello meronzouk, we just had to edit out the link in your comment as it didn’t work. Thanks.]

Profile photo of RonAtkinson
Member

The software is actually called PC *********** and was recommended by Rick Maybury of the Saturday Telegraph. Note my address correction posted later.

Member
Howard Jones says:
7 December 2010

what was the point of this article, I am no better off than I was when I started reading it and all the attached comments, something about crapware ?? and a waste of space,and time !! LOL

Profile photo of RonAtkinson
Member

Apologies for my misspell- should have read http://goo.gl/HzHFQ

Profile photo of digitalgenius
Member

I run windows XP and I am somewhat amused by windows updates one item that is included all the time is a malicious software removal tool which appears regularly to fill up the hard drive. And guess what it never finds any thats left to the antivirus on my pc to find it.

Member
klint says:
9 December 2010

The Malicious Software Removal Tool is supposed to remove itself once it finishes scanning your local drives.

Member
500VA says:
8 December 2010

Look everyone – MS has provided a unifrom platform where “normal” people can use the software and it is compatible from one user to another. If you want to use Linux etc and have hours to fiddle to make it work, then that’s fine. I do not have that time. Sure, MS is not perfect, but it has brought IT to the masses. As for virus writers – they are weak little cowards. As for DELL – I had a problem with their laptops and sent a letter to their registered address to start legal action & it was returned “not known”. I would NEVER buy a DELL unless I wanted a service from ****!

Profile photo of richard
Member

Actually it is not quite true – MINT an off shoot of Linux – comes as complete as MS with word processor etc and is compatible with MS software. Not only is it free it also has 1000s of supporters on-line for friendly help. Updated automatically on-line just like MS The apps supplied are virtually identical in use to MS. The entire operating system and apps took about half an hour to install and get running flawlessly from a CD.

It was far superior in connecting automatically on-line – My several printers both on the network and connected locally to the computer were recognized on switch on far faster and easier than MS. It is an excellent product.

The trouble is the Computer Manufacturers will not -do not pre-install MINT only MS – so “normal” people never have the chance to use it.. It has nothing to do with ease of use.

But it is no surprise that many (most?) commercial systems actually use Linux – because open source.software is easier to operate and control.

I have had a DELL laptop for many years – works beautifully – mind you so does my Amstrad laptop.

I actually prefer HP because of quality of build. So 14 of my 17 printers are HP as are 7 of my 14 computers. (I only use one computer and a few printers at a time :))

Member
jeff says:
8 December 2010

Further to Richards comments above, I would really like to see Which investigate the issues re Microsofts OS end user agreements (EULA). I would love to buy an off the shelf computer without a Microsoft OS installed. Just try looking for one. Failing that, try saying no to the EULA on first start up and see how hard it is to get some money back for not using the Microsoft OS. (How about trying it Which folk)? There are people with knowledge of the industry believe that Microsoft abuses its market position and uses its legal clout to make life difficult for pc manufacturers who don’t include their OS on their computers.

Linux ( I’d also suggest Mint) has reached the stage where it can provide an inexperienced user with a much less fraught (and cheaper) experience using the internet, E mails etc, than they tend to get using Windows. Its take up is inhibited because it is so hard not to buy a computer without Windows already installed. As a consumer organisation I think Which should get back to basics on this issue. It could make a positive contribution to a consumers computer using experience by informing them about the Linux option. It should also actively campaign against markets abuses in the industry.

Profile photo of Andy Vandervell
Member

I think the issue of pre-installed operating systems is an interesting one. Unfortunately, manufacturers were scared off Linux with netbooks. They found the versions they used weren’t liked, and people returned a greater percentage of Linux netbooks than Windows XP ones. It’s a shame the Linux netbook OSes back then weren’t as good as the ones we have now.

Fingers-crossed Chrome OS has an impact…

Member
Chris says:
14 December 2010

I’m not that worried about bloatware. I am concerned enough about a slow laptop to switch it to Ubuntu 10.10 recently & the speed increase is staggering. And the startup / stop is similarly quick. So maybe the point itsnt what is or isnt…but the operating system that it sits on.

Profile photo of mark
Member

When I last bought a PC I enquired of many of the most well known computer sellers whether they would supply me with a PC with the operating system but no “********”. Having dealt with a PC with this stuff already installed I was keen to avoid all the pop-ups, nag screens and the time wasted calling technical support because they won’t uninstall. All of them, who actually bothered to reply, refused, basically saying “take it or leave it”. So I left it and built my PC from parts, which is not actually difficult for a technical person.