For decades now Windows PC manufacturers have consistently added “pack-in” software; also known to PC buyers as “bloatware”. The manufacturers do this for a few reasons, not least of which is revenue. Compaq and Packard Bell were notorious for this in the 90s and early 2000s. I have a particularly vivid memory of my Packard Bell Pentium 75 MHz coming out of the box pretty much hobbled by “value-added” software on top of Windows 95.
The manufacturers charge the 3rd party software vendors to pack the software in with the computers at the time of sale; this offsets part of the cost to produce the hardware for the manufacturer and provides an installed base for the software vendor. In many cases the bloatware is supposed to add conveniences or services for the end user and generally solicit the user for upgrades, subscriptions or adding some type of advertising or other.
The other major reason for including a slew of pre-installed software is to provide a more unique user experience; perhaps targeting certain user functions such as using a scanner (that hot technology from the 90s!!) to scan in family photos.
There are solutions for bloatware – all of which are a bit tedious in some regard or another.
You can of course uninstall all the applications you know you don’t need. This however can be tricky, especially for less technically savvy users. Thoughts such as “My new computer came with McAfee and I need antivirus, right?” cause people to second guess whether an application is a help or a hindrance.
Additionally there are various programs you can download to assist with the identification and removal of bloatware (also often referred to as “crapware”). The gotcha with this is that the programs only make recommendations of what to remove – the user still has to make the ultimate decision and often they will err on the side of caution and just leave things if they aren’t sure. This is not to say that caution is a problem, discretion being the better part of valor and all. Often it is preferable to leave well enough alone and seek advice from someone more knowledgeable, which brings us to the final solution.
More advanced PC users have long had a 3 step process when setting up a new PC.
- Unbox Computer
- Format Hard Drive
- Reinstall OS
In most cases when I purchase a new Windows PC my first step is to format and reinstall a clean OS. Now Lenovo has pledged that starting with Windows 10 there will not be any bloatware included on their systems. Sounds like they’ve taken their recent humbling to heart. The Superfish fiasco of recent days (which I wrote about earlier this month) has rightfully caused Lenovo to take a beating in the court of public approval.
I spent portion of the Saturday following the security flaw revelation checking one of my in-laws’ laptops for Superfish, so I am acutely aware of what a violation of consumer trust this is. Thankfully their particular laptop was purchased before Superfish, but it was still riddled with bloatware. Lenovo bloatware has become pervasive in their consumer laptops, so the announcement that they will only be installing the OS and software required for hardware functionality is very welcome.
A customer who purchases a computer should be able to expect that it will work quickly and efficiently out of the box without privacy issues (beyond those that their OS choice may or may not impose). The ironic thing is that computer manufacturers spend great time and effort (and therefore money) making their devices lighter, thinner, and faster. Then they take a slew of programs from 3rd party publishers and slap them onto their device thereby negating much of the effort put into the hardware performance.
A particular laptop I received recently starts, sleeps, and resumes from sleep in roughly 50% of the time required when it was new out of the box. I performed my usual “wipe and reinstall the OS” routine and gained a ton of previously negated performance.
As I use progressively less and less proprietary software (outside of my professional life) this is less of a concern for me personally, but for the vast majority of PC purchasers it is a step in the right direction for sure. Only time will tell if other manufacturers follow suit, here’s hoping it becomes a lasting trend in the market. In any case, Lenovo is trying to improve the security and privacy of their customers, and whether it’s to save face or something nobler, it is a welcome development in the marketplace. Customers deserve better.