Killing the crapware problem on PCs

Killing the crapware problem on PCs

Summary: As many readers know, I'm not a fan of the Apple ads, but this one was spot on and not to mention funny. Poor old PC looked like a balloon and his dangling arms almost made him look like Jabba the Hutt.

TOPICS: Hardware

As many readers know, I'm not a fan of the Apple ads, but this one was spot on and not to mention funny. Poor old PC looked like a balloon and his dangling arms almost made him look like Jabba the Hutt.

One of the things that bother me the most about the PC industry is the inclusion of all that crapware (or crapplets) PC makers put into their computers. The same thing extends to the software industry as a whole. Every time you download some software, you're prompted (often the default setting) to install some kind of add-on for your Web Browser. By the time it's all said and done, we're looking at a computer that spends three to five minutes booting up and a Web Browser that's so jacked up that half the screen real estate is taken up by utilities that people never use. Of course, this isn't entirely unique to the PC industry, and I've seen Macs loaded with lots of junk during the startup process as well, but at least you don't get all that crap in a brand new Mac.

The first thing I do whenever I get a PC from any computer maker is format the entire hard drive and start with a clean slate. This isn't feasible for most people, so I'll usually resort to my second option, which is to clean out the startup with the MSCONFIG utility you can run from the start - run prompt (run prompt not needed with Vista).

The first thing I do is nuke all services that didn't come pre-installed with Windows. I simply check Hide All Microsoft Services and clear out everything else. There's no reason software needs extra services to work, with the exception of antivirus software and some VPN or network connectivity software (not entirely happy about that). A lot of IT departments like to load a bunch of junk utilities, and I've never been a big fan of that (at least when I was setting the desktop imaging standards). Some readers know I'm not a fan of desktop antivirus either, but I realize that your normal user will need it. The least obnoxious desktop antivirus solution is a free one from AVG. TrendMicro's corporate products seem to be tolerable and they're easy to manage, though I do wish they would audit their code better so that the next malformed compressed file doesn't completely root your PC.

As you can see from my configuration, VMware tends to load a bunch of junk that you don't need for the routine operation of VMware workstation. Anyone who loads Oracle will be in shock when they see how many services and startups it loads. Logitech in the past has loaded a bunch of junk into the services and startup area for its video conferencing products, but I've been using the native Vista drivers instead. A lot of printers and other consumer products like routers will load junk into the services and startup area if you follow their instructions and load their CDs. Internet service providers ask their users to load "Internet Acceleration" software, which inevitably causes serious issues with the computer.  Everyone in the entire PC industry from PC makers to accessory makers are in a race to see who can load the most crapware in people's computers.

The next thing I do is kill all the startup junk under the startup tab in MSCONFIG.

The picture above is actually just the tip of the iceberg, and there's tons of other stuff that I disabled as well. I'm pretty careful about the software I load on my computer and even I have so much stuff to disable. I've seen the typical user desktops that have so much junk loaded that their task tray lines the entire bottom of the screen and their startup list is a mile long. What I generally do is click the Disable All button in the lower-right corner of the screen and then selectively enable the things I know I want. The only thing you'll need to enable is your desktop antivirus solution. I'm a regular user of Live Messenger and Skype, so I keep those things in the startup list. Groove is something that comes with Office 2007, and I haven't figured out how to disable that yet without having it automatically come back, though it doesn't seem to be causing any problems.

[Update 4/23/2007 - Reader "Master Tech" posted this awesome tip.  Microsoft Sysinternals has this tool called Autoruns, which is even better than MSCONFIG. It shows you all the hidden stuff that crapware/adware/malware might inject that may be hidden. Autoruns can hide all the digitally signed entries so that it will show you ALL of the non-Microsoft entries that gum up your PC.]

Between clearing out the non-Microsoft services and almost the entire startup folder, Windows XP should boot in 25 seconds (not including the system post time). A crapware-free install of Windows Vista should take about 35 seconds (excluding the system post times) to boot up, while shutdown times should never exceed a few seconds on XP or Vista.

If you've had your computer for a while and you've installed more junk over the years that clogged up the registry and hard drive, a more extreme measure is to use CCleaner, but that requires some care.  I'll follow up with another article on how to use CCleaner to clean out even more crapware embedded in the file system and registry.


Topic: Hardware

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  • Groove could be dangerous

    George says: <b>"Groove is something that comes with Office 2007 and I haven't figured out how to disable that yet without having it automatically come back though it doesn't seem to be causing any problems."</b>

    From my understanding Groove is for peer to peer networking with projects that are worked on by a team in Office 2007. It opens a port each time it's loaded, so I see a security danger there. Other than changing it's name and making sure that it's not brought back with DEP, I've not seen any documentation on how to turn it off.
    • There might be some settings in Office to turn Groove off

  • Spot On

    One of those classic, "if you own a PC, you should READ THIS FIRST" articles.

    Good stuff, even though I already know most of this, I still harp on users to do this whenever they purchase a new PC. I can remember the first PC I purchased from Gateway. First thing I did after firing up the PC was to reload Windows 98 SE. That was back in the day though.
    • Some things never change

      FDISK is your friend.
      MSCONFIG is your friend.
      CCleaner is your firend.

      Crapware is the enemy.
      • Of course Apple never does that...

        My Powerbook came with trial editions of iWork, MS-Office, and Quickbooks, not to
        mention iLife which would probably be considered crapware on a PC. GarageBand,
        iMovie, iTunes, iChat, iPhoto, iDVD, even QuickTime would all be extra crap on a PC
        but its okay because it's a Mac.
        • Linux....

          ... typically comes with 7,000 software packages on the DVD. Fortunately they are not installed by default ;-)
        • QuickTime is never ok

          QuickTime is never ok. There are tons of exploits for it on Mac or Windows. QuickTime is crapware. iTunes can be considered crapware too. A couple years ago, an update for iTunes nuked extra volumes on Macs.
        • The difference is..

          that the trial software on the Mac isn't as intrusive, in that all you have to do is
          drag it to the trash to delete it. As far as I know, they don't load at boot.

          As for the iLife stuff, I personally don't consider it crapware. I use iPhoto and
          GarageBand and iTunes fairly often. I even take a laptop on vacation, just to
          download my daily pictures into iPhoto. As I understand it, Vista has a program
          similar to iPhoto, and I wouldn't consider that crapware, either.

          It's the third party stuff that the hardware vendors stick in there that bothers me -
          that's what I consider crapware. My daughter's Dell laptop was just full of it. I
          certainly don't blame Microsoft for that.
        • crApple to begin very soon

          I was forced to install iTunes when all I needed was Quicktime. One of the largest purveyor of "crapware", Google, has its CEO as a sitting Apple board member.

          This is how it started in the IBM PC world, and it won't be long before an Apple PC arrives configured the same way.
          • Itunes not required for Quicktime

            I didn't have to install Itunes in WinXP. I think it is possible to install Quicktime only for the Mac also:
          • Quicktime w/o iTunes available for PC, now...

            But it wasn't too long ago if you downloaded Quicktime, iTunes came along whether you wanted it or not. To Apple's credit, they now offer Quicktime w/o iTunes.
          • QT w/o iTunes

            Actually, QT has been available without iTunes bundled with it for quite some time. However, when you either go to Apple's website to download QT or when QT pops up and announces there's a new version available (and you go to the website), what's the *first* offering in the list? QT bundled with iTunes. You have to scroll down a bit to find QT listed by itself.
            M.R. Kennedy
        • Retard! (might as well join the throng of insults around here)

          1. iLife is BEST OF BREED for consumer oriented media production. It is not
          demoware, but FULLY FUNCTIONAL and ONE OF THE REASONS some people buy a

          2. What is wrong with Quicktime or Windows Media plugins installed (actually, WM
          is NOT installed)?? The minute one hits the web they'll be faced with content of
          these types.

          3. MS-Office demo. Given that Office is the de facto standard for word processing
          etc. it is a wise choice to include the demo for those switching from Windows.

          4. Ditto regarding Quickbooks, which is NOT a lightweight program but a legit
          finance program. In case you hadn't noticed, # 3 and # 4 help to allude to the fact
          that you can do MORE than #1 on a Mac. These help to change the perception of
          what a mac can do -- something that the misinformed public NEEDS to know. Get

          5. iWork? I'll grant that one, even though it was the full featured demo that swung
          me over to using it and dumping Office.

          The difference between how much and the quality of the demoware on a Mac is
          night-and-day different than what poor PC users are subjected to. Also, Safari is a
          respected HANDS OFF zone by developers, with no ridiculous bloat of search bars
          hijacking real estate like in IE.
          • Excuse me!

            I resent your use of the word for your subject line. Please refrain from using that word. I'm sure if you try real hard you could come up with something else to use. That word just hits the wrong cord with me. Thank you.
          • are you a troll?

            Or just ignorant?

            The accepted euphemism for this category of adware, toolbars, bloatware is "crapware". It's a technical term. :)
          • Whom are you addressing?

            Just want to make sure.
    • Very Spot On, But the funny thing about Crap ware

      is (if I'm remember correctly) MS was trying to prevent it before the US justice department sued them on behalf of their competitors. I think one of the complaints was that their licensing terms did not allow the OEM's access to the desk top for non-ms software. Again if I'm remembering correctly they changed those terms before going to court. When they did I think one of the Tech writers (Could have been you George?) wrote about how that was going to clutter the desk top with trial ware apps ' adds for internet company's online services and tool bars and crap that most people do not want or use. But since it was MS most of the opinions in they Talk backs were for it. Now look where we are at!! LOL
      Thanks George for the Heads up on AutoRuns and CCleaner. I'm looking forward to the Blog on CCleaner usage. Yesterday I formated my C drive, XP was slowing down again and I wanted to install Feisty Fawn 7.04 as a Dual Boot with XP. So I killed two Birds with one Stone. Buy it would be nice not to have to do the format to speed up XP. I'm tired of having to call MS for another activation code each time!
      • I wasn't in this business back then

        I wasn't in this business back then but you do bring up a very good point.
        • I think it might have been Devorak back in the ZiffDavis Days NT

  • You have to be kidding!

    Stop for one second and think about an average user. Just once please. Who are you writing this for anyway? And I suppose most users who wouldn't understand this or want to be bothered by all this "stuff to do"... are stupid users?

    Oh and BTW.. those TV ad's aren't aired to sell someone like you over.. But those Ad's are all funny and a BIG hit!! Right? Advertising is by design.. meant to stimulate a reaction. Sales! right?

    So let's get back to the "crapware market" tell us about that in detail and where it came from and why?

    Nice to know you have the answer to the crapware problem.