When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

Summary: Laptop makers only get one first impression, and when they preinstall junkware that ruins the first boot they have failed the customer.

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My office door is like a revolving door that sees laptops and other gadgets coming and going all the time. I test more laptops than anyone I know, and I have the startup procedure for a new laptop down to a fine art. Anyone who has opened a new laptop knows how important it is to get the new toy out of the box and up and running as quickly as possible, and I have gotten quite good at that.

Normally I don't give the the startup of a new device a second thought, but yesterday I ran into the out of box experience from hell. I can't imagine what a buyer of one of these laptops without a technical background would think about the product with the first impression this experience provided.

The laptop is the HP Pavilion dm1, but the miserable first boot had nothing to do with the hardware. It was a combination of the crapware that HP preloaded on the laptop and an update process that inserted itself into the first boot. I sympathize with the difficulties colleague Stephen Chapman is having moving from Windows to OS X, but I am pretty sure his out of box experience with the MacBook Air was a lot smoother than mine with the HP.

I took the dm1 out of the box and was immediately struck with how compact and nice it looks. It isn't as thin and light as Stephen's Air, but it is a nice laptop in every way. It also has Verizon 4G LTE integrated inside, something no Air can boast. As impressed as I was with the first look at the dm1, that didn't last long. I plugged the laptop into the charger and hit the power button. The standard Windows 7 first boot process fired up and ran as expected. The laptop booted up quickly, and I mistakenly thought this was going to be a breeze.

Once the laptop was fully up and running, the crapware immediately raised its ugly head. The Norton Internet suite was preinstalled on the dm1 and it began popping up a giant window to get me to activate my free trial. I didn't want to do that and the only way to make the popup get out of my way was to hit the "Remind me again in 7 days" button. I figured that was the end of my irritation at Norton. Wrong.

Since this laptop has LTE integrated into the system, I fired up the Verizon Access Manager software to get the connectivity going. This was simple and worked as expected. In seconds I was rocking at LTE speeds on the dm1, and while I prefer a mobile hotspot method over integrated connectivity in a laptop it was pretty nice to have such bandwidth on the small dm1.

I fired up the browser to test the connectivity, and Norton raised its ugly head once again. I noticed a lag opening even simple web sites due to a popup from Norton each time informing me that the web page was safe for viewing. The default for Norton protection apparently is set to tell you a site is safe every time one is opened. This popup window had a noticeable lag to it, undermining the entire web browsing experience. I suppose I could have stopped what I was doing and gone searching for the Norton preferences to turn this obnoxious behavior off, but I never got the chance as other automatic software raised its ugly head at this point.

A black popup window opened informing me that the preinstalled HP maintenance software detected that critical updates needed to be applied to the laptop. The PC has only been running for five minutes and the user of this brand new laptop was confronted with a critical situation. There were only options to perform the maintenance immediately or to postpone the update for 20 minutes. I figured a buyer of the laptop would apply the maintenance so that's what I did.

This maintenance was indeed critical, it included various updates to HP's maintenance software, restore utilities and even a BIOS update. The AMD graphics driver was also to be updated in the list of six things that needed attention. With trepidation I hit the Start button and waited as the various items were downloaded and applied.

Due to the super speedy LTE connection the download of these items was lightning fast, but things bogged down in the application. I watched it and watched it as each item was applied. The entire maintenance application took two hours. You read that right, five minutes out of the box and this laptop required HP maintenance that took two hours to apply.

When all items were finally applied the utility insisted on a system restart, not surprising given the nature of the updates. I told it to restart the system and then watched what happened with the BIOS update. When it hit the BIOS process in the boot it fired up a DOS-based flash utility that proceeded to flash the new BIOS. I kept my fingers crossed that the flashing wouldn't get interrupted and brick the laptop, but it went fine for the 10 minutes it took.

The system then rebooted again after flashing the BIOS, and soon I was seeing the familiar Windows 7 flashing flag startup screen. And seeing it, and seeing it. It was quickly apparent that the system couldn't finish booting Windows 7. I had to do a hard power down and try again. Same results, Windows 7 would not boot. The second attempt at boot I chose the Windows 7 startup recovery option.

Kudos to Microsoft for the startup recovery. It went through its checking and restored the system to an earlier state, which meant the restore performed by the HP utility at the beginning of its 2 hour process. The system booted up finally and was running OK, but I was not sure at this point if the recovery had removed some or all of the HP maintenance updates applied.

The dm1 seems to be running fine, but I don't know for sure. I was so frustrated at the end of this now 3 hour process I shut it down and set it aside. I will return to it as I like the notebook, but I was in no condition to test it for a while.

Sadly, while this is not common with new laptops, it does happen too frequently in my experience. Vendors install junk on them that get in the way from the very first boot. Updates are a fact of life but when they are the first thing confronting a buyer of a new laptop the out of box experience cannot be good. Even without my problem booting after the maintenance a two hour system update out of the box is just terrible.

I am quick to give a company like HP props when it deserves it, but I dish out chops when it is appropriate. This out of box experience with the dm1 was not one I would wish on my worst enemy, and now I am reluctant to even fire up the laptop again to test it. My enthusiasm for a new gadget was extinguished thoroughly, and I must get it back to return to the dm1. I don't think that is what HP intended when they boxed it up for shipment.

Image credit: Flickr user stuartpilbrow

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Hewlett-Packard, Windows

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67 comments
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  • Similar experiences with HP printers

    I've had similar experiences installing an HP OfficeJet Pro printer. After loading the CD that contained drivers, management software, photo display software and I suspect software to manage the paper shredder, a process that took well over 20 minutes, the software noticed a "Critical Update" was available. I let the software update itself and watched another 30 minutes go by.

    HP really needs to rethink this whole process as it seems to be part of all of their products.
    dkusnetzky
    • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

      @dkusnetzky most of the time you can go to HP's sight and just get the driver for the printer. Allot less crap to deal with.
      mas4489
      • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

        @mas4489

        Even the "Just the driver" download is sometimes not just the driver. I have had to extract the files and make them available so I could update the driver through device manager.
        mlashinsky@...
    • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

      @dkusnetzky I agree. In general, I find that HP hardware is great, but its software is awful. In the case of the Officejets I have found it better to delete HP software and to rely on the facilities built in to Windows.
      mark@...
    • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

      @dkusnetzky
      I say F*** HP and others aside of maybe Dell, Lenovo and Asus. They still come preloaded with garbage but usually less. Either way I remember the days when you bought a computer and they just gave you the crapware on a disc and left it up to you if you wanted any of it... Now these days those companies more desperate (HP) rely on crapware vendors money to make ends meet for their short comings just as they do with their crappy printer driver software which they force you into installing a bunch of solution support crap just to buy more of their crap... Enough crap already and give the users their PC's back the way they should be!
      audidiablo
    • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

      @dkusnetzky

      Apparently there's a similar experience with the Chromebook.

      However, once you take away the crapware, it doesn't have an OS!

      ;-)
      tonymcs@...
    • Ya, its beyond disgusting nonsense.

      @dkusnetzky
      Its this very kind of thing that would lead any sane individual to feel that Windows machines have some serious issues, and when this kind of nonsense is going on Windows machines do have some serious issues.

      Its living proof that proprietary brand name machines are not only more expensive then they should be, they tend to run the far higher risk of having this kind on nonsense rear it ghastly ugly head.

      The horrible thing about this is, it doesn't matter what brand of OS you want to use, perhaps save Linux, but thats a whole new issue) when it comes to laptops you cant get custom builds or build them yourself, so...its the horrible dumb situation that is there in your face, and its a Windows problem.

      I suggest anyone with a brain should either avoid anything that they find out comes with this crapware being so pervasive (you have to check/ask) or find out how to void the crapware on an immediate basis.

      Its a stupid move by MS to allow such nonsense, the discount made by allowing this crapware is minimal and while the manufacturers may feel its a lovely way to pad their profit margin its madness and if they find it so necessary it should be relegated to a different method, as in it sits there inactive, ready to be either made active or easily wiped out forever. There should be clear documentation about what this crapware amounts to as well. I'm sure if this was the case it would quickly become far less profitable to have crapware on a laptop, but too frigging bad, if its not worth the effort then charge an extra $50 a machine and be done with it.

      No wonder Windows gets a bad name. Microsoft should take some steps, not to is complete irresponsibility on their part.
      Cayble
      • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

        @Cayble
        +1
        hkommedal
  • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

    James,
    The next time try with HP Elitebooks or Lenovo T series. Far better notebooks and don't include crapware like the consumer notebooks from both companies.
    dvm
    • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

      @dvm BUT these consumer grade laptops ARE what people buy. They might be cheap, but they are very often ruined by the poor software load - and I'm not talking about Windows here, this isn't what Microsoft intended.

      I have had clients come to me with systems like this and decided the best solution is to completely reformat the drive install from an official OEM install disk (using the license from the machine's "sticker") and then downloading and installing drivers for anything not identified by Windows.

      The result is a far better machine. If the OEMs actually cared about their hapless customers they would ship machines nearer to this state.

      Apple holding both ends of this DO care (they have to - there isn't anyone else to blame!) and if you pay more for an "Enterprise class" computer you can get PCs without this nonsense. If the PC OEMs don't wise up then Apple will continue to make spectacular gains - nothing Microsoft can do about it. It IS down to the OEMs to stop breaking Microsoft's offerings when they load them on their machines.
      Jeremy-UK
      • RE: best solution is to completely reformat the drive

        @Jeremy-UK

        AKA the <b>"Nuke From Orbit"</b> option.

        At least, around here, when a laptop gets "Nuked"; the WindoZE infection is removed, and Linux replaces it.
        fatman65535
      • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

        @Jeremy-UK

        What you described, format and install windows, is standard procedure for me. Although I am finding it harder to do this every year.

        Some of the chipsets don't work without some very specific drivers, and some of those drivers are nearly impossible to separate from the unneeded application that installs along with it. (The Wave software on Dells...?) Sometimes I allow it to install the extra control apps and then disable or prevent them from starting. (NIC card, wireless adapter, audio package, video drivers, etc...) Whatever works to get the drivers into the machine without the extra executables running.

        It gets a bit trickier every year.
        mlashinsky@...
  • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

    And you have been generous with the dm1. Many customers, myself included, would have seen the Win7 boot screen hang, tried to hard-reboot once, and then chucked the whole thing back in the box and asked for a refund! And if it had been purchased at Best Buy instead of Verizon, many would have applied the refund to a Macbook Air, because for years they have heard, "it just works."
    jglopic
    • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

      @jglopic Any people like me will continue to recommend Apple's offerings for many people - because they don't wilfully screw-up their own machines!
      Jeremy-UK
      • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

        @Jeremy-UK Pay for Geek Squad to setup your computer and hold you hand the way Apple does and you'll still come out saving $...
        Phenoum
      • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

        @Phenoum We don't have that in the UK, we do have some utter yahoos at PC-World now called "knowhow". I've never heard anything good about "Geek Squad" - but clearly I don't have any direct experience. Anyone?

        Personally I don't buy the cheap PC stuff intended for consumers, as an IT professional it seems like a false economy.
        Jeremy-UK
  • Thankfully I haven't shared that experience ....

    ...but I have similar from others. My last two computers I bought was Ubuntu and Apple macmini, and no trouble with both, even to this day. And even better, I left Microsoft windows behind and have no intention of returning.
    root12
    • RE: And even better, I left Microsoft windows behind

      @root12

      I hate being "smug", but doesn't that feel good.
      fatman65535
  • Apple too, to an extent

    I bought a mini a couple of years ago. Straight from Apple. It was pretty good but it didn't 'just work' as regards updates. I needed to do a LOT of updating, going back two OS minor updates, I recall. I can understand a firm that is pushing hard to keep prices down not keeping its images right up to date but a premium price outfit should.

    Agree about HP though. A Vista PC I used to look after for a family member had small HP printer. That worked fine, but entailed an enormous amount of software to do the all-singing all-dancing maintenance, help, buy more ink etc. etc. The updating - of that software (updating the printer driver alone wouldn't have been so bad) turned into such a cumbersome slow drag that I eventually gave up and I'm a bit of a fanatic on updates, configuration etc. And in the end the HP printer software got so bogged down it wouldn't update itself. Not even after reinstalling, troubleshooting, etc. etc. All I wanted was a simple printer! This deters me strongly from going for a far more complex device such as a laptop. It's a pity because HP clearly try hard and they do well in many ways.
    Ross44
    • RE: When the out of box experience becomes an out of mind nightmare

      @Ross44 Dont have to install anything on Win 7 machines - just plug it in an skip the smattering of crap that HP runs 24/7 on your computer
      Phenoum