Has Dell kicked the crapware habit?

Has Dell kicked the crapware habit?

Summary: In the fourth installment of my series on setting up a new Dell consumer PC running Windows Vista Home Premium, I roll up my sleeves and start looking for crapware to zap. Surprisingly, there's almost none to be found, and Dell has created a simple automated routine to uninstall the handful of programs included with this PC. Have consumers won the war against crapware?


Coming in late? Catch up with the first, second, and third installments. The executive summary: I’m documenting my experience with a new Dell C521 running Windows Vista Home Premium. After some initial hardware glitches, everything is running smoothly. Today’s task: Cleaning up the bundled software that came with this system and adding virus protection.

Ironically, this report was delayed by a virus. Not a PC-borne virus, but the human variety. While I was recovering I was able to actually use this PC for its intended purpose, to manage my family’s collection of digital music and digital photos. It’s continuing to work well and I’ve yet to experience any performance or compatibility issues.

Like any OEM, Dell has the United States government’s permission to modify the Windows interface and to install third-party software. Used indiscriminately, this results in a PC loaded with crapware. When I set up a new Dell notebook last fall, I had to remove nearly two dozen unwanted programs and deal with a dozen license screens before I could begin using the PC. My experience this time around is greatly improved:

Most bundled programs aren’t actually installed. Last fall, I had to remove three separate AOL programs, which were running by default and using system resources. This time around, the bundled programs are few and mostly useful. The only one I have to deal with immediately is a bundle that includes the Google Desktop and Toolbar, which I can accept or decline with three clicks.

Dell includes its own automated uninstaller. Three icons on the desktop lead to a Dell-branded launcher program that includes a Remove Programs button. Clicking that button opens a Software Uninstall Utility that allows me to remove the bundled third-party programs without having to go into the Windows Add Or Remove Programs dialog box.


No security software is included. Because this was a refurbished computer, I didn’t get the option to choose which programs were preinstalled and had to accept whatever was included. Thankfully, this system didn’t include a trial version of an antivirus program or all-in-one security suite. In my experience, performance problems often crop up when a new PC owner installs a second or third security program without first uninstalling the one that came with his new PC.

Using the automated removal utility I’ve zapped Corel’s Snapfire Plus and Paint Shop Pro, both of which were trial versions. I also removed the installer files for the Earthlink trial and the WildTangent games. I left the Roxio Creator software, which is a useful addition given that this system has a DVD writer, and Google’s desktop search tools. After satisfying myself that the only software remaining on this PC was stuff I wanted, I removed the three launcher icons from the desktop.

Finally, I downloaded Grisoft’s AVG Anti-Virus Free. Other systems in my home and office use Trend Micro products and Microsoft’s OneCare, both of which work well. I’ve heard nothing but good things about AVG’s offering but have never tried it, so I figure this is as good a time as any. Because this computer is destined for private non-commercial use in my living room, I qualify for the free version.

It takes a few minutes to download the installer (one downside of the free product is that it and its updates are delivered only over low-bandwidth connections). It installs in less than 10 minutes with a straightforward setup wizard, and I choose all the default settings, including a full system scan of the 76,000+ files on this machine. While the scan is underway, I check Task Manager and perform a few tasks to verify that performance isn’t impacted. The scan is using roughly 10% of the CPU, and it has no adverse effect on any of the tasks I try.

Last January, when I met with Michael Dell, I asked why Dell still insists on loading so much subsidized trialware (aka crapware) on consumer PCs. A few months later, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal documented his nightmare with a Sony Vaio loaded with so much crap it took three minutes just to shut down. If this Dell machine is any indication, the company has taken those complaints to heart and changed its ways dramatically. I didn’t have to go through any of the radical surgery that my colleague George Ou recommended earlier this week for de-gunking a PC of crapware. In fact, I could have skipped the whole process; the bundled software doesn’t use any system resources and isn’t “in your face.”

It took less than 30 minutes to rid myself of a few unwanted programs and add a security program of my choosing, and this computer is still performing just fine. Next up, I’ll install a TV tuner card and connect this PC to the large-screen TV in the living room.

Update 21-June 8:00AM PDT: It's not my imagination. A commenter points to this recent entry from Dell's Worldwide Client Software Manager, Michelle Pearcy, posted at the company's Direct2Dell blog:

We've expanded our opt-out offering on XPS products as well as through our Dimension desktops and Inspiron notebooks. This means when you configure a system on Dell.com, you have the option of choosing "No software pre-installed" for things like productivity software, ISP software and photo and music software. On most XPS systems, the no software options are the default choice. The end result is that customers can tailor the amount and type of software that is preinstalled on their systems to meet their specific needs at time of purchase.


Topics: Hardware, Dell, Security, Software

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  • Message has been deleted.

    • Reverend MacFellow is at it again, I see

      • How do you know it's Reverend Macfellow ?

        Do you know him personally ? Is he your friend ? Has he told you personally that it was him ?
      • For all anyone knows ?

        I could be the Mike Cox of ZDNET .
        • Or you ....

  • Crapware my foot.

    This is BONUS SOFTWARE worth $1,000s!!!!!!
    • 10 Minutes to install AVG?

      Because of low bandwidth? Well while I have nothing againist AVG, I have always preferred the free version of Avast. It has always been installed in under 5 minutes, and includes an automatic updater for the program and virus definitions. You do have to register the software for free, and enter a license key every year, but hey it is easy and simple.

      www.avast.com Try it next time. There is also Avira, but last I checked they did not support Vista, and they give u you a pop up about thier software when updating the definitions or the program.
      • 5 versus 10

        The extra five minutes is not a big deal to me, but thanks for the pointer. I especially like the fact that Avast Free has a 64-bit edition.
        Ed Bott
      • Avast is very nice.

        Good, free, and auto-updateable. The Best.
      • Are you kidding me?

        NO software package should take more than 5 minutes to install.

        If you are thinking about AV programs, use NOD32. Installs in 2 minutes guaranteed, does not SUCK up all your resources, and actually deletes the stuff it finds, unlike AVG which just kind of does nothing.
        • That included downloading updates

          First of all, I said "less than 10 minutes." I didn't have a stopwatch on, and as I explained in other comments, I often kick off a process like an installer and then go do something else instead of sitting and twiddling my thumbs. I also included the time to do an update to the program components and virus signatures. In any event, this didn't feel like an excessive amount of time, which is my point here.
          Ed Bott
        • Ha! Thats funny...does nothing?

          I'm not going to even attempt to count the number of computers I personally know of with AVG working on them, and first, none, not even one has has a virus related mishap in years, and secondly, many of these computers are laptops running through a wireless network and they still never suffer a hit.

          So if that kind of performance is "kind of doing nothing" I think we can continue to live with that. Mind you I do also use Avast which provides similar high performance.
      • i just downloaded AVG and the download was slow

        i just downloaded AVG and the download was slow. it's not my connection i have a 15mb/ps connection.
        and it downloaded at 78KB/sec.

        but it's free and from everything i've heard it works well so a slow download should not be a big deal.
        SO.CAL Guy
        • Understandable...

          Every time someone writes a widely read article that includes a piece of software, the server(s) that software calls home get hit, and hit hard.

          If you pulled at 78 kilobytes, as you indicated, that's definitely not slow. If you meant kilobits, then yes, that's considerably below the slowest I've ever seen pulling from Grisoft's servers, which do get down around 200kbps regularly.
          Dr. John
          • true Dr (NT)

            SO.CAL Guy
          • Good point - guilty of that myself.

          • Excellent point (NT)

    • Crapware

      This so called software is crapware I know some people do like it. But most important is to let the buyer load what he needs I too purchased two notebooks e1505 they were loaded with so much crap it took over 45 min to 1 hour to delete. Last it?s not worth $1000 bucks at all. I?ve been building desktop computer for over 18 years I'm a certified technician. These were the first two portable I ever bought. Anyway I prefer to install my own stuff.
      • Back in the day...Ha! about 7 years ago...

        I got my first desktop about 7 years ago and I still recall the way crapware came at you back in those days. Not only were the pre installed crapware programs plentiful but the availability of pop up blockers were not common place and it usually wasn't to long before most people had accepted any number of "popped up offers" of interesting little programs that would seem rather ingenious to most internet newbies. Of course after they had about a dozen or so of these insidious little pieces of crapware running full time on their fancy new machine they couldn't figure out why their almost new PIII 800 was creeping along like a snail. All those people thought their crapware was cool at the time. Ya, I bet there are still plenty of lovers of crapware out there. And they are just about as happy as those owners of the old PIII 800's were before they installed all the crapware on their machines, because their new machine is probably performing at a PIII 800 level. I hope they continue to enjoy themselves.

      I bought a Toshiba laptop and wasted 2 hours of my valuable time to remove the crap I would never need - only to find out that the removal of one of the crap ware also disabled my CD Writer.