Junkware, Bloatware, Shovelware

These colorful, and rather amusing, terms all describe the annoying pre-loaded software that major computer vendors add to the computers you buy from them. I talked with a salesperson at Best Buy recently and asked him if I could purchase a new PC in the store that didnt come pre-loaded with this software. The answer was no. He told me that the amount of bloat varies from vendor to vendor but all brands contain it.

The sales person also admitted that these programs significantly slow the computer down. They cause pop-up screens and longer boot times, as some of this junk loads on startup and constantly runs in the background, taking up memory and hard drive space and slowing your new PCs performance by 5 to 10 percent. Some of these programs connect to the Internet, without your knowledge, to check for updates.

You can pay Best Buy $40.00 to remove this junk. It’s what they call optimization. You can also take your PC to a local computer repair shop to get it removed. Most of the local shops also charge about $40.00.

I looked at the desktop on one of the computers in Best Buy while I was there. I saw icons for:

Google Desk Top
Net Zero
Microsoft Office 60-day trial
Norton 360
Picasa 2
Wild Tangent Games
Quick Books
Music Man Jukebox

Of course, thats just what I could see on the desktop. There are also varying amounts of bloatware on the startup menu, in the add/remove programs, and in the program files.

Some people try to get rid of the problem by wiping the hard drive and installing a fresh version of Windows. However, that’s not going to help because these machines receive a restore disc that contains a copy of the hard drive’s setup as it came from the factory–with all the junkware installed.
Others dont even come with the disc, but rather have an area on the hard drive set aside to restore files. Again, this returns the PC to its original configuration, complete with junkware. This means that even if you do pay to have it removed, or you spend the hour or so necessary to manually remove it yourself, it will all come back if you ever have to reinstall your operating system at any time in the future.

Money is the reason for all of this bloatware. Computer manufacturers are paid to load your new PC with junk. These big corporations do whatever they have to do to keep prices down and turning your desktop and hard drive into a giant commercial is one way to do so. They know that most consumers won’t complain or even realize that their new computer has been compromised.

Of course, if you ask these vendors why they put all this extra junk on new PCs, theyll tell you, if they will agree to talk about it at all, that they are providing a service to the consumer by giving them access to trial versions of these programs. Thats sure one way to spin it. If they are interested in doing consumers a favor, why dont they add full versions of free programs like openoffice.org, instead of a trial version of Microsoft Office 2007?

If you arent in a hurry for a new PC, you can have one of the same vendors that sell computers to Best Buy, custom build one for you online. I spoke to someone in customer service at Dell who said if I bought directly from them, that I could request that all the bundled trialware be removed. She said that the only trialware that was mandatory was a 30-day antivirus.

Customer service at Sony said that if I ordered online from them, and ordered a laptop that was 14 or smaller, I could request something they call Fresh Start, which means that it wont contain any bloat. She said that Fresh Start wasnt available on 15, 16, or 18-inch laptops.
Finally, I spoke to customer service at Hewlett Packard and was told that if you order online from them most of the trialware can be removed, but she couldnt guarantee that all of it would.

My personal favorite way to avoid all the junk is to either build your computer yourself or buy a custom-built PC. If you prefer a brand name, you could also consider a system targeted for business. The vendors dont load nearly as much junk onto these systems. The downside is they cost more. For example, I just optimized a Lenovo and the only trialware that came pre-installed on the hard drive was McAfee antivirus and Microsoft Office 2007.

One thing is for sure, if you buy a PC that contains bloatware, you are going to have to put up with pop-up screens, longer boot times, slower system performance, and maybe even some of these programs connecting to the internet to check for updates, if you dont either remove it yourself or have it removed.

As more and more consumers start to realize that this junk is taking up space and slowing down system performance, maybe they will complain in sufficient numbers to cause change.

Could this trend spread to other areas? Maybe, the next time I buy a TV, the manufacturer will have pre-installed software that makes pop-up commercials appear on my screen when I turn it on or randomly while Im watching a show. Maybe they will install a scroll bar that constantly runs at the top or bottom of the screen. Will this be how sponsors keep consumers from fast forwarding past the commercials with a DVR?

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