Why all that crapware will kill the PC

Why all that crapware will kill the PC

Summary: Turn on a brand new PC - like I did for my mother-in-law last weekend - and the first thing I do is close a popup from a security app. Then I close another popup from the same app.

TOPICS: Windows

Turn on a brand new PC - like I did for my mother-in-law last weekend - and the first thing I do is close a popup from a security app. Then I close another popup from the same app. Then there's probably a popup from a different security app; close that and then uninstall them. Then close the two alerts from the Java Updater; it's a 64-bit PC these days, so both 32 and 64-bit Java Updaters are running. (In most cases I'll uninstall Java because there are so few times that I use it and it's so hard to make the Updater go away and leave me alone; with two instances of the updater I can't always make them remember the setting to check for updates manually - if you actually use Java, you'll have to grit your teeth and accept the updates on both versions and then set the update check frequency you want. And why Java isn't a digitally signed application in this day and age, I do not understand.)

Then I'll download Microsoft Security Essentials to keep things protected while I get the updates from Windows Update (I'm still recommending replacing Norton and McAfee with Microsoft Security Essentials to get good protection without losing performance; I'd be interested to hear your recommendations); then install Live Essentials for Photo Gallery and prune off the variety of games, alternative front ends designed for children, video editing tools and other cruft that's filling the system up. Reboot to finish the cleanup, pick the browser of choice - and only then do I let the person I'm helping take a look at their new toy and start setting it up for themselves. And that way, they get to decide how they feel about Windows rather than how they feel about the mess the PC manufacturer has made of it. We shouldn't have to do this - not least because the average PC buyer would never realise they need to clean up a brand new PC.

Am I being unfair to PC makers here? Is Windows so perfect there's nothing they can do to improve on it by adding apps? Isn't it better to have antivirus and security software on there from the get go? Maybe, of course not and probably - but getting a new PC is still a far more frustrating experience than it should be - and a bad experience with a crapware-laden Windows install is going to push users into the arms of Mac and Android and iPad and Chrome faster than anything else. Microsoft does understand this; look at the clean and sparkling Windows images you get on the PCs at the Microsoft Stores (they're called signature images). There was a plan to segregate all of the pre-installed software added by the OEMs into a special OEM folder that I spotted on a presentation running in the breaks at the Windows 7 reviewer's workshop way back when - and that OEM folder finally showed up in the signature builds. And while the Windows 8 presentations that showed up online a while back have never been acknowledged to be legitimate, I'm inclined to believe in the graph that shows a PC with a retail copy of Windows 7 installed boots in two seconds less than an OEM copy. After all, taking the OEM software off the Sony VAIO X made it boot 30% faster and gave it a 50% longer battery life. OEM vs retail startup times

But many PC makers don't seem to have understood how important it is that the first-time-out-of-the-box experience for a new PC should be fast, sleek and shiny - not irritating and confusing.

The Java issue isn't the OEM's fault (Java is open source software so I can't legitimately blame Sun and Oracle) but the experience needs to be better and the PC OEMs are in a great position to push the folk behind Java to improve this if they want it to go on new PCs. The security software is on there by popular demand, and certainly the experience of uninstalling, say, Norton, is a lot better than it was even six months ago. But all the rest of the apps that are on the average new PC would be far better as a slideshow of software you could choose to install or delete from a single checklist that came up, say the second time you turned on the PC (on the VAIO X, Sony put them in a Device Stage window). You'd appreciate the ones you did want - and the people who want two months of free Office or a free copy of Office Starter won't be irritated by the apps for children and the people who want the apps for children won't be annoyed by having to take the time to get rid of Office.

Each of those apps is on there for a reason; a green and crinkly reason. The going rate for a pre-installed app is around $5, paid from the software developer who hopes you'll keep and pay for the full app - and that revenue keeps the prices of PCs with Windows down below the price of the same hardware with another OS. We all like cheap PCs. But if the first experience with a PC carries on being a bad experience, Windows is going to have a harder and harder time competing. If the PC makers don't care about that, Microsoft does - and it needs to care enough to lean on them to help the customer.

Because although I say Microsoft understands the problem, what it actually talks about is the rich ecosystem and all the added value the OEMs provide and how much choice there is and how the OEMs understand their customers. Some of that is perfectly true, but some of it has to be down to the complexities of the business relationship with the OEMs who are, as I say, their biggest customers. (The vast majority of copies of Windows are sold on new PCs, point out the Windows team, whenever you ask about something complicated in the upgrade process.)

Microsoft can’t just throw its weight around with the OEMs or the software developers who write the apps that come pre-installed on PCs; the years when Microsoft bullied other companies left it with a terrible legacy of distrust and unpopularity that better behaviour and better products haven't erased. Plus the PC OEMs are Microsoft's customers and if you look at the numbers they might look like more important customers than individual users. But the years that graphics drivers were blue screening Windows (and the way people still think that’s down to a fault in Windows rather than cruddy device drivers from graphics card manufacturers) have to be a huge hole in the Microsoft balance sheet too, and the sooner Microsoft puts its foot down and draws some lines in the sand for OEMs, the better Windows will look because of it.

I praise Microsoft every time they name and shame apps and add-ins that slow things down; did you know how much longer it takes to open a tab in IE 8 if you have the WinAmp toolbar? - and praising the software that gets it right is good too. Carrot or stick, technical advice or a spot in a keynote for a PC that boots faster (the VAIO X was shown off at the Professional Developers Conference last year); Microsoft has to find a way to push the industry towards a better user experience on PCs for everyone's sake.


Topic: Windows

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • I hear you Mary....I build PC and set up laptops day in day out at the moment. The tower are no problem. A signature image is what I do create. User account control down one level to less annoying. Everything visible in the task bar etc. The only thing I will let auto run is an app called smart defrag for some customers.

    Laptops are another story. They come out of the box, often in a crippled state. Levono laptops often have as many as many as 30+ programs booting with windows....shocking!!
    Having them sitting there on the hard drive is one thing but to auto run them is so beyond daft that it must be about the money as you point out.

    For home and light business users I also kill the drive indexing, just like I did with XP and now the huge amount of vista machines coming for service. This means when the machine is idle then for a lot of the time the hard drive is also idle, thus prolonging it's life.

    It is satisfying to hand over a snappy laptop with the funky slide show themes provided by microsoft.

    Just to end, a friend of mine who is a mac user gave me his centrino XP laptop to tune up. I gave it the works and he seemed (in a nice way) put out that it was rocketing along faster than his macbook pro.
    roger andre
  • Sorry about the sticky s typos.....can't seem to find the edit function on here.
    roger andre
  • Agreed!!
  • I tend to run PCDecrappifier if I can when I get to first look at a new Laptop and strip out everything that seems non-essential. Sometimes you get some nice extras like the Full Copy of Photoshop Elements 6 I got with my Packard Bell.
  • This is a good article on an ever increasing problem. The issue is just as you mention, that vendors take the incentives and include the crapware on their images that they sell to customers. It's no doubt that Windows runs better without the crapware. But, you also have to look at where the software comes from and why it is needed. Windows is just the operating system, which includes a very limited amount of software, not even an Office suite or good graphics program. Things have to be added to the PC to make it more appealing to the buyer. And, there are lots of 3rd parties that release competing products to fill in this void. Yes, Microsoft finally released Security Essentials, which was a big step.

    Other operating systems like Linux come in distributions that has one single application for updates, and one single application for add/removing any software available in that distribution, which commonly includes everything you could ever need. This is why I like the simplistic design of it over Windows, which is plagued by 3rd parties all releasing competing and overlapping products.
  • Mary,

    I agree that it is hard to find a new PC today that doesn't have a immense amount of pre-installed applications lurking, the worst of those are the time and functionality limited trials.

    I am the CEO of a startup company ForwardK, our research indicates that crapware alone can slow down a computer by up to 20%, we are launching a cloud-based anti-crapware service to address this ever growing problem.


    Our public beta launched last week, anyone interested in trying this service for free contact me at customercare@forwardk.com.

  • apologies for the late reply; I;ve been laid up with flu ;-(

    @roger - if you're looking at notebooks with Win 7, are you leaving indexing on? I find it so much less intrusive and so much more useful than Vista that you may want to experiment with that.

    @apex - Microsoft isn't allowed to include some apps and utilities with Windows since the consent decree (which covered complaints from, amongst others, Linux providers), which is why they cram things into the Live Essentials suite - I presume that Ms doesn't pay as much of a bounty as only Dell is bundling Essentials with PCs, which ironically I'd be in favour of as the apps are pretty good, as long as it was a setup link rather than all the apps set to run at startup.

    @ryan - I'll be in touch, we'll want to try that service out; but again ironically,, would it not have to be pre-installed for it to be widely used? ;-)
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • Hi Simon and Mary,

    It wouldn't need to be pre-installed to be used widely, we can simply analyze a computer suspected of having crapware or unwanted software. Contact me at customercare@forwardk.com I can arrange a free copy for you and perhapes we can speak regarding the strategy we have planned.