It's 2017. Why Are Windows PCs Still Infested With Bloatware?

I'm currently testing the fourth Windows laptop in my quest to find a replacement for the iPad Pro. After trialling a Lenovo MIIX 510, Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and now a HP Spectre, I'm remembering one of things that really annoyed me about Windows computers. All the extra software that I didn't ask for.

It's something I've commented on briefly in my previous reviews. For example, shipping a computer with security software that is either time-bombed or requires some kind of registration process is pointless, particularly as Windows Defender does a decent job of protecting your computer.

I understand there's a competition argument to be made here but I'm not convinced the approach taken by OEMs who partner with security software vendors are doing the best thing by their customers.

Another thing I've found is the number of games that are either pre-installed or have icons in the Start menu taking me to the Windows Store. While that might be okay for Windows 10 Home, it's bloody annoying when it comes to Windows 10 Pro - which is meant to be for professionals.

Take a look at the image of the Start menu at the top of this article. The only apps I've added to the Tiles are the four small Microsoft Office apps. All the other stuff was there after starting a fresh machine for the first time.

If I want a game, I'll go and get it myself. And I know I could uninstall the apps, delete the icons and all that, but it's a new computer. Why should I have to remove a bunch of crap to make it "clean"? That's an awful way to deliver a great out-of-the-box experience to new customers.

Security risks

Just this weekend, it was revealed that a bunch of HP notebooks from the EliteBook, ProBook, Elite x2 and ZBook series were released with a keystroke logger. Here's what the security advisory from modzero reports:

Conexant's MicTray64.exe is installed with the Conexant audio driver package and registered as a Microsoft Scheduled Task to run after each user login. The program monitors all keystrokes made by the user to capture and react to functions such as microphone mute/unmute keys/hotkeys.

And HP isn't the first company this has happened to.

When I buy a computer I expect it to ship in a safe state. And if HP can't (won't?) test systems for keyloggers and other malicious software, how can most users be expected to?

Every piece of extra software installed on a computer expands its threat surface. It's time for OEMs to only ship systems with the necessary software and make everything else optional to simplify system maintenance and reduce the risk of a malicious attack.

Here's my expectation. When I buy a new computer I want it ship with the operating system. I want it to boot quickly and for the product registration process to be quick. I don't want to have to register multiple applications or be nagged to pay extra for a time-bombed piece of trial software that was pre-installed.

Is that too much to ask?


Comments

    While I totally agree with the author about the amount of extraneous garbage loaded on new PCs, I use PC Decrapifier. There's also the option of going DIY with the Penguin.

    And yet several people on whingepool argued with me that Candy Crush Soda was not installed on my PCs (about 5 of them). They insisted it's only a link to install - on mine it is not. It's the full game pre-installed.

    I haven't seen Ashphalt or Fallout Shelter, at least I can't remember seeing them (I might have just gone to my happy place and ignored them).

      But aren't users accustomed to app stores? It's not that hardto add those apps yourself after installation. I'd argue it's easier to add what you want than remove the crap you didn't ask for.

        I agree, but clearly the difference is visibility - it's like another level of exposure beyond being a featured app in the store. I imagine a non-trivial number of users played CCS as a result of the pre-install. I thought I read somewhere that MS gets a cut of the in-app purchases.

        I really don't like the principal of having ads injected into a paid product (I mean windows itself).

    This has been a gripe for awhile but even moreso with the advent of Windows 10. It's a side effect of their new focus on advertising profits ala Google or Apple and the delivery of Windows as a "Service". I really think there is still a market for a clean Windows version with no fluff (like the games and advertising being stuffed into the start menu) and no telemetry and tracking.

    I'd happily pay a premium to get a genuine "professional" version of windows, from the sound of it so would the author of this article. Can't help but think a lot of other people would too.

    Hell, at the very least there should be an option during install to include stuff like the game shortcuts, trial versions and "fluff". I'm pretty sure there was more control over the install even back in Windows 3.1 than we have now :(

      OS installations are far easier today than the old days. I really like that I can start setup, leave the room and come back an hour later and it's all done. But I miss being able to so a "Standard" vs "Custom" installation.

        For the most part I agree with you. 9 out of 10 installs are basically throw the disk in, kick it off and walk away. Unfortunately I still find maybe 1 in 10 goes to hell and it winds up being a nightmare due to some small quirk of hardware. The big problem with that is in the past they used to expect problems so you'd have guides and help in setting stuff up. Now if you have a problem installing it's a shock and you struggle to get help. Try finding a windows help file or manual that's not online... :(

          Every PC I've owned or had as a personal device provided by work has either been a clean install from scratch or wiped and clean image applied. Hate seeing computers with so much crap on them, lean and clean with a few essential programs is the way to go.

          Worst case I came across, we got some laptops from Acer, and they would hang installing a fresh Windows .iso because of some weird custom driver that was needed. I ended up talking to their global head of support and had to manually inject stuff into the image to even get it going. Ended up returning those.

            Similar problems as me. Except I had issues with an Asus laptop, had to get a specific HDD driver (can't remember exactly what it was now) in order to get it installed.

              Yeah, at least they give you the option to add HDD drivers (or used to) during setup. This thing would just crash and burn.

      You hit the nail on the head. MS execs were looking at Google, Apple and FB and decided they want a piece of the very large advertising pie.

    The obvious answer would be because companies have paid those OEMs to display those icons there. With margins on hardware getting ever tighter, they will look to other ways to increase their revenue for each PC they sell.

    Microsoft probably has little control over what gets installed with each OEMs new PC builds. The OEM bean counters should look at the option of providing a "clean" PC for a small premium above what the bloatware providers are paying them.

      There was a very famous lawsuit some time ago where Microsoft wanted to be able to control this experience, because of OEMs. I seem to remember few people defending Microsoft's case in the public arena (although I note they were quick to subsequently defend Apple's right to do the same and more), and we have this mess.

      There are still pretty good markups on Windows machines. In the education space we can get a $1180 laptop for $780 and the 1 year warranty is increased to 3 years.

    From what I've understood is the bloatware on windows system is there to subsidise the cost of the computer's price. This is why they can be a lot more competitive than say Macs were Apple don't included any bloatware.

      But are PC prices really more competitive than Macs? If you compare like with like Macs and Windows PCs there's not a lot of price difference. Not just memory/storage/CPU/display but materials and build. When you look at metal-bodied Windows notebooks vs MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, the prices are comparable.

        If you're buying on government contracts, then you save about $1000 getting a Windows laptop over a Mac.

        Depends if you are paying full price or not. Working in Education we can access stores that sell at the education price. It's amazing how hundreds of dollars can just drop away, sometimes close to a third of the price. You've hit gold if you can manage 10% off Apple products.

        Exactly. Windows fanbois are delusional. Even after the surface pro, surface book and surface studio, they still maintain that macs are expensive. The numbers say otherwise.

        And I say this as the owner of 1 MacBook pro, 3x windows 10 laptops and 3x windows 10 desktops (2x gaming and 1 htpc).

    Every app pictured is present on a clean install of Windows 10 1702, they're all provided by Microsoft themselves, not OEMs.

    These even mostly exist on Enterprise editions of the OS which just shows Microsofts disrespect for their business users.

    I share your pain. But it's not entirely fair to blame OEMs for this. Rather, the finger should be pointed at M$.

    My shiny new work laptop arrived recently (T570) under the banner of Win10 "Signature" version. Which was specifically advertised to not contain unwanted bloat. And to give Lenovo credit, they only pre-installed drivers and nowt else.

    But M$ still kindly provided me with all the crap shown in the image above. And best of all, most of it can't be easily uninstalled (yes, it is possible with a Powershell script, but the average user won't know this).

    Just treat it like advertising - which is what it is after all. Then uninstall it. Simple.

    I have made a batch file i update every few months that strips all the bloat crap, it works,well until a major update "tweaks" the command you need to run.

    Wonder if enterprise comes with all the bloat, id pirate it for that alone.

    Imagine if you bought car and after having chosen its colour, interior and specs to your liking it arrived at the dealership with car seat covers that were a different colour, there were fins and flares all over the body that you didn't realise were going to be added, a CD playing music you had no interest in and some weird air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.

    Sure you could remove all these but it's not what you bought.

    The same with a PC. You buy the machine you want. You look at the specs, design and price. And then it arrives with all manner of things to remove.

    It doesn't happen in the auto world or in many other areas of the consumer world yet it's par for the course in PC land. And it needs to stop.

    You know what isn't crammed with bloatware? And I can't believe no one has mentioned it yet.. Linux
    There now go google Zorin, Linux Mint and Elementary OS and enjoy bloat free computing without the Mac price or Windows making you "Wannacry" lol

    I made a powershell script to remove the bloatware from the HPs/Dells and a few others that would be tedious to do manually. It's like PC Decrapifier but can be customized to suit your needs -- https://github.com/arcadesdude/BRU

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now