Sony's amazing crapware-free PC

Sony's amazing crapware-free PC

Summary: Sony is finally taking on its crapware problem. For the past two months, I’ve been using an astonishingly light and agile Sony VAIO notebook and loving every minute of it. The best part of all was that this machine was absolutely, completely, unequivocally crapware-free, which meant I was able to be productive within a few minutes of unboxing. Sony's Fresh Start delivers exactly what it promises: a crapware-free PC. In today’s post, I show you why this VAIO is different from its predecessors and explain how Sony plans to widen its selection of crapware-free models.

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Sony is finally taking on its crapware problem. For the past two months, I’ve been using an astonishingly light and agile Sony VAIO notebook and loving every minute of it. The best part of all was that this machine was absolutely, completely, unequivocally crapware-free, which meant I was able to be productive within a few minutes of unboxing.

That’s a huge switch for Sony, which has taken a beating as “the poster child for negative experiences” with new PCs running Windows Vista. And it was a happy surprise for me. When I wrote about my hands-on experiences with two older VAIO notebooks earlier this year, I called it a “truly miserable experience.” It took a crapware-cleansing clean install to fix a 2007-vintage Sony notebook, and I spent hours replacing outdated drivers and removing unwanted software from a 2008 model (if you haven’t read that installment, see Fixing Windows Vista, one machine at a time).

In a March interview, Sony Vice President Mike Abary assured me that Sony was “listening and taking action.” The first phase, he said, was a new program called Fresh Start, in which Sony promised to remove all trialware and unnecessary software for customers who chose the Fresh Start option as part of a custom-configured VAIO. Sony announced initially that it would charge $49.99 for the privilege of ordering a crapware-free PC and then quickly reversed its decision.

In early May, I ordered an ultraportable notebook from Sony’s website, configuring it to order and choosing the Fresh Start option (no extra charge).

Ordering a crapware-free Sony VAIO notebook

The notebook arrived a few days later, and I’ve been using it since then for a variety of real-world tasks. The bottom line? Sony's Fresh Start delivers exactly what it promises: a crapware-free PC. It runs Windows Vista remarkably well, and the hardware has been a sheer delight to use. In today’s post, I’ll show you why this VAIO is different from its predecessors and explain how Sony plans to widen its selection of crapware-free models.

No crapware? Really? -->

The system I reviewed is a VAIO VGN-TZ2000, configured to order from Sony’s website. The configuration I specified included an ultra-low-voltage 1.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7700 processor, 2GB of RAM, an integrated Wireless-N adapter with Bluetooth and a broadband (WWAN) adapter with GPS, integrated DVD drive and webcam, a fingerprint reader, a large-capacity battery, and Windows Vista Business Edition with Service Pack 1. (The Fresh Start option is available only with Vista Business and not with Vista Home Premium.) Total cost including tax and shipping was $2,375.

How was the out of box experience?

Exceptional. The most striking feature of this machine is how thin and light it is, about the dimensions of a sheet of paper, roughly an inch thick, and under 3 pounds even with the large-capacity battery. When I turned it on, I went through a very simple setup process that included prompts to set up the wireless network. After installing a few Windows updates, I was able to get to work with the computer. The whole process, including the unboxing, took roughly 20 minutes. Besides the Windows Recycle Bin, the only icon on the desktop was one offering a free one-month trial of Sprint broadband services for the included WWAN adapter.

A clean, crapware-free VAIO desktop

Really? No crapware?

Really. None. whatsoever. The system includes a handful of Sony-branded utilities for managing wireless connections and updating Sony drivers, a webcam control utility, a Sony utility for importing and editing digital pictures, Adobe Reader and Sun Java software, and third-party DVD playback and CD/DVD burning programs (WinDVD and Roxio Easy Media Creator). The system did not include any security or antivirus software. None of the included programs were trialware, and there were no stray icons or pop-ups at any time. Sony also included a Windows Sidebar gadget to control the various wireless functions.

How was performance?

I was initially skeptical that a 1.33GHz CPU could handle Windows Vista. After two months of use in a variety of circumstances, I can attest that this system’s performance is stellar. The system easily handled every business application I threw at it, including Office 2007. The only noticeable flaw was jerky playback of a DVD using the included WinDVD software; using Windows Media Player, the same DVD played back perfectly. The integrated Mobile Intel graphics adapter (945GM) is the obvious weak link, as evidenced by its rating in the Windows Experience Index (below). But it did a fine job of rendering the Aero interface on the system’s 11-inch 1366x768 screen. I wouldn’t expect it to handle demanding graphics editing tasks or game play, but as a business system it was snappy and impressively fast.

VAIO performance as measured by Windows Experience Index

Any driver-related issues?

The unit I reviewed came with a mostly up-to-date set of drivers. I experienced one and only one blue-screen error, which turned out to be the fault of the integrated fingerprint driver and was fixed with an updated driver. The Sony Update utility also identified an updated video driver which I was able to download and install without issue. In two months of use, the only application failures I’ve seen were caused by a single piece of beta software.

Battery life? Power management?

Fully charged, the battery meter consistently reported a useful life of just under 8 hours, and I was able to consistently work for a full day without recharging. Sleep, resume, and hibernate features work perfectly, with the system coming back from sleep mode in less than two seconds and reconnecting to the wireless network in a few seconds.

How was the system recovery process?

During my testing, I used the Recovery partition to restore the original factory configuration. This image was indistinguishable from the one I started with. The recovery process was very fast (well under an hour), and no additional programs were installed.

What about XP?

This system included a set of Windows XP disks in the box. During my testing, I used those disks to replace the Vista Business installation with XP Professional. Ironically, that image included a boatload of trialware (including Norton Internet Security). It took more than an hour to uninstall the unwanted software. Using XP, system performance and battery life were roughly the same as they were was under Vista. The most noticeable difference was boot time, which was approximately 20 seconds faster under XP than under Vista.

How to find a crapware-free Sony -->

As I discovered when I ordered this system, Fresh Start is currently a limited offering available only on configure-to-order (CTO) models in the TZ line. By the end of summer, the program is set to expand to several additional lines, all based on Windows Vista Business. Eventually, Abary told me, the option will be available on all CTO systems. So far, it’s been a hit, with more than 40% of customers exercising the Fresh Start option.

If you purchase a Sony notebook at retail, Fresh Start isn’t an option. Retail customers who want to avoid trialware will have two options:

  • Systems sold in a Sony Style retail store will be offered with a similar image optimization option called Backstage. If a retail customer chooses this option, they get to select from a menu of software options (including full versions of security software and Microsoft Office instead of trialware). According to Abary, the entire process of optimizing the software to the customer’s specifications takes about an hour.
  • Systems sold through non-Sony retail outlets will continue to ship with trialware, but Sony promises to streamline the setup process dramatically with a new VAIO Startup Assistant that reduces the boot-up experience to five steps. one of which is a consolidation of all trialware offers. If you say no, you won’t be asked again.

VAIO Startup Assistant

So, has Sony completely eliminated its crapware problem? No, unfortunately. The Fresh Start program is just that: a start. Unfortunately, the business model for OEM PCs still offers too many financial incentives to computer makers to include trial software offers as a way of subsidizing lower prices. What Sony has done so far, however, is a step in the right direction, offering an easy way for customers who want to avoid crapware to do so and to minimize the performance impact even on retail systems.

I’ll continue to keep an eye on Sony and other OEM manufacturers to see how they perform in this regard.

For previous posts on my experiences with Sony hardware, see:

A real-world Vista challenge: Can this Sony Vaio be saved?

Speeding up a sluggish Sony

Fixing Windows Vista, one machine at a time

Sony drops its $49 no crapware fee

Topics: IT Employment, CXO, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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87 comments
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  • How sad that this is considered a FEATURE!! (nt)

    .
    NonZealot
    • I know

      It never ceased to amaze me how people accepted all the shit you get crammed down your throat and in some cases, you had the option of paying them to remove the shit THEY put on there in the first place.

      As much balls as americans claim they have, they are sheep in the market place and shit that wouldn't fly somewhere else, is spread like a virus here in the US. Amazing.

      Wake up people, YOU control everything. ALL you have to do is say so when you don't buy and let them know WHY you didn't buy it but NOOOOOOOOOOOO, no one wants to get involved.

      Well guess what, till EVERYONE starts voicing their opinions, we ALL get screwed.

      I just had a 5k computer built and people on different forums were telling me to buy it from Dell or HP or something because I know jack about computers when it comes to fixing stuff and I needed the support but I told them that since the support is NON existent, I would NOT be buying from them.

      I used to be a loyal HP customer with 9 of their printers and much more other stuff but I've given up on them and to me, DELL is a crooked outfit. THEY have RIPPED ME OFF and cost me $500!

      Wake up people and follow my example. The only way to get them to listen is NOT to buy.
      guiri
      • DELL- RIPOFF_ME TOO

        IN June 2008 with the 'death of Win XP' coming;
        Wal-Mart bought MANY Thousands of Dell 1525 Laptops
        with 2 GB RAM ; Inrel Processor ; WIN XP HOME OS;

        PRETTY NICE Piece of Hardware......THE DELL WARRANTY IS DISHONEST!!!!! DELL DOES NOT USE A SERIAL NUMBER per se to begin a warranty....Thwy call it something ARCANE.

        DELL BEGAN THEIR '1 year warranty ' when they shipped this pc to Wal-Mart. Then online their web site 'transferred' ownership to me the retail buyer.......

        I Called DELL 'CUSTOMER SERVICE ' about this....
        THEY REFUSED TO MAKE CHANGES.

        I Called back again ; This second call resulted in a 'smart mouth rep ' telling me "We anticipated this; & it left here @ Dell with 15 Month's warranty."

        I Challenged that after I logged on & read the details on Dell Web Site Warranty for My Unit.

        The Tech went to a 'Supervisir" came back & said "I MisSpoke;" & Further refused to make anything right.

        The hardware is pretty good. I Have extended coverage through Wal-Mart resources with only a 3 week 'notch gap' for 'when the factory warranty runs out.'

        WHAT IF YOUR DELL HAD BEEN IN WAL MART INVENTORY 11 MONTHS ?????

        ACCORDING TO THIS DELL POLICY THE RETAIL BUYER IS SOL!!!!!!
        russelleeadams
        • Fresh Start still costs $50

          I just configured a VAIO laptop to see this and in order to get the "Fresh Start" option, you are REQUIRED to upgrade from Vista Home to Vista Business. The final cost ends up being $50!

          Sony is crap. I've complained to them numerous times about my wife's VAIO laptop (which was not one of the recalled models). It was getting so hot that the top of the keyboard frame was turning dark, the COA sticker on the bottom was melting off, and it burned you if it came in contact with skin for more than a couple seconds. The results of my complaints? A "live support chat" that went through a script and never listened to what I was saying, ended up pointing me to a support line where nobody would pick up (I hung up after 30 min last time). I finally wrote a BBB complaint, at which point they told me that it was out of warranty, so I was S.O.L..

          Her laptop is now sitting on the table, never to be turned on again because (I kid you not) it started smoking. Still, Sony doesn't care.

          I had a Dell Inspiron that finally died on me (overheating), I complained to the live chat support, who sent me a replacement even though I was out of warranty.

          Everything about Sony is just slimy and greedy. If you want a crapware-free PC, buy from a different brand (just about any other brand is fine), then reinstall Windows. It'll take you a little over an hour and you'll probably end up with much better customer support, even if it's from a call center in India.
          jhilgeman
      • Comment 2 DELL Warranty RIP OFF

        DELL HQ is IN Round Rock TX; 40 miles or so from Texas Capitol AUSTIN.

        Here is the link to file an online complaint with the
        Texas Attorney General Consumer Complaint Department:

        https://www.oag.state.tx.us/consumer/complain.shtml

        A Nice lady there said so far that there were over 2500
        Dell Complaints logged.....

        LET'S INSIST ON OUR RIGHTS AS RETAIL BUYERS !
        russelleeadams
        • start by NEVER BUYING A DELL!

          Dell designs and sells crapola hardware. When are people gonna wake up to this?
          If ever forced to buy a PC, Dell would be the LAST CHOICE.
          And I'd never expect honest treatment from them!
          pikeman666
          • I agree...

            My Dell died a miserable death after minimal use. Proprietary, cheap components and as stable as a shopping cart at high speeds! Never again Dell.
            GSavage777
      • Did the Justice Dept's MS suit cause this?

        I never bought a prebuilt machine, but I don't recall ones that I worked on having tons of junk programs on them. For the most part, they came with whatever Windows came with, plus whatever apps were paid for.
        notsofast
      • The lame

        You are absolutely correct. I am a computer consultant with MANY years experience; own an ISP, a computer consulting company and am actively on the cutting edge of what is available. There is NO value in a PC full of trial crap. There is no value in an OS that has been ?integrated with ISP?s, AV, Spyware. NONE. When you buy your PC do not buy it with an OS. Simply go down to the local PC ?guru? and have them load up the OS of your choice. Your PC will run AT LEAST 10% FASTER. I use both windows and Linux. You can?t go wrong with either. You have no support from either. More apps from windows, less virus and spyware problems from linux. Ubuntu is a great option for a desktop OS. Very competent in the core browsing, email and basic apps. Windows, of course, have more compatibility and less nuances.
        muehlbauer
        • Forget Ubuntu, Install Mandriva

          Mandriva supports more hardware out of the box, has a great support community, and is just all around easier to use than Ubuntu.
          On top of that, it's interface is nice to look at, unlike Ubuntu's baby sh!t brown.
          x-windows user
    • This can be solved if Congress would quit bickering like children.

      How hard would it be if all computer users wrote congress to change the laws? A No Crapware law? Even better would be a PC consumers bill of rights.

      It simply says to sell the computer with no trial software and the chosen OS as is. No extra fluff. Now if Sony wants to include a crapware disk or web page, then thats their business.

      Also, a PC consumers bill of rights would be freedom to have any OS chosen. Also, the OS producers would have to write on all PC platforms. You chose what goes on the PC. Warranties are honored by date of sale and none of this other BS. Force all PC manufacturers to have fully trained A+ certified techs at call centers in the country that you are calling from. The end to deceptive commercial practices especially from companies like Apple.

      This is just a few ideas, I'm sure there is a lot more.
      Solid Jedi Knight
  • What's really sad....

    ...is that you didn't bother to read the part where it says Sony quickly changed its mind about charging for crap-free PCs before running your yap.
    Hallowed are the Ori
    • Oh , I did read that part

      I just wanted to see how fast you guys would jump on the bandwagon. If anything , what's to stop Sony from re-reversing it's position.
      Intellihence
      • There's a nice backtrack (nt)

        .
        Badgered
      • Liar.

        [i]I just wanted to see how fast you guys would jump on the bandwagon. If anything , what's to stop Sony from re-reversing it's position.[/i]

        Puh-LEEZE. You just got pwned, and now you're trying to cover your a$$.
        Hallowed are the Ori
    • P.S.

      I wasn't running my yap, but instead typing.
      Intellihence
  • Wrong

    As John E notes, no customer has ever been charged for this option and the decision to charge was canceled the same day it was announced. If you had read the story, you would know that, and if you get to page 3 you'll see they're expanding the options.

    However, you were so anxious to post a piece of misinformation that you read the headline and pounced. Excellent trollery!
    Ed Bott
    • But possibly built into the price?

      The TZ line is certainly not cheap, starting at about $1900 and quickly going up from there.

      Generally, expensive machines provide far more profit for the maker. They could simply build the cost into the machine.

      If Apple can deliver a crapware free notebook for $1100 dollars and a desktop for $600, there is no reason that Sony and other PC makers should not be able to do the same.
      j.m.galvin
      • The TZ is a much more sophisticated machine

        I use primarily Apple products, and it was only after the disappointment of the MacBook Air that I bought my TZ. It is smaller and lighter than the Air, has and internal optical drive, better battery life, several USB and Firewire ports, a mike in jack, fingerprint reader, etc. The case is made of carbon fibre, not scratchable, and dentable aluminum.

        All in all, the only thing wrong with it is Windows Vista. But with the help of Ed's previous blogs, I have got it to the stage where I can live with it rather than OS X. Since I have several Mac notebooks, I can tell you that OS X is more stable and faster. Vista is a pain when you have to close and open your notebook. But, I can live with it until Steve Jobs comes out with an un-crippled small and light notebook.
        jorjitop
      • But possibly built into the price?

        [i]Generally, expensive machines provide far more profit for the maker. They could simply build the cost into the machine.[/i]

        [i]If Apple can deliver a crapware free notebook for $1100 dollars and a desktop for $600, there is no reason that Sony and other PC makers should not be able to do the same.[/i]

        Good point. Maybe greed is also built into the price.
        hasta la Vista, bah-bie