Windows 8 is a clean slate in many ways. But one scourge that is not gone is crapware, a.k.a. bloatware, junkware, trialware, and stupid games that drag down the performance and experience of so many Windows PCs. We asked Acer, Toshiba, Dell, Samsung and Lenovo what they preload on their Windows 8 systems. Some PCs are cleaner than others. The surprise? A Microsoft store might be the best place to buy.
Aside from its touch-centric features, Microsoft has touted Windows 8 as being faster, leaner, more efficient, and more economical with power than any previous version of Windows. All of those selling points aren't likely to mean much to the owner of a brand-new Windows 8 machine when a dozen programs she doesn't even want to use are shoehorned into the machine at the factory.
Some of the performance issues created by bloatware are partly alleviated by hardware -- mainly, the presence of SSDs rather than mechanical disk drives in most new Windows 8 systems. The speed of those drives helps offset the performance problems created when a dozen different programs attempt to access the disk at the same time after bootup. But even those improvements only go so far.
Microsoft claims to hate junkware just as much of the rest of us, which is why (so it says) it introduced the Signature line of PCs sold through its stores. Said PCs have no third-party software installed, and a panoply of vendors -- including all those listed above -- is represented in Microsoft's Signature store. Plus, in a very Genius Bar-esque move, those who have existing PCs can bring them to a Microsoft Store and pay $99 to have them tuned to meet Signature standards.
Fine, except what Microsoft isn't as vocal about is the fact that Signature PCs can still come pre-loaded with Microsoft add-ons, such as Windows Live Essentials, trial editions of Microsoft Office, or Microsoft Security Essentials. In short, it's at least as much about Microsoft leveling the playing field against third-party competition as it is about providing end users with a clean, uncluttered PC experience.
PC buyers always want to pay as low a price as they can for the best possible PC, and PC manufacturers are more than happy to oblige. But the lowering of costs via the bulk supply discounts available to PC makers only goes so far, and the crapware strategy is a deeply-entrenched way to drop the per-unit price a few bucks further.
What's doubly ironic is that the "post-PC" devices -- the smartphones and tablets we're turning to as alternatives to lumbering desktop towers and full-blown notebooks -- are becoming just as infested with crapware too. Worse, such stuff is almost always unremovable, barring rooting the phone or other extreme measures. The one exception that comes to mind: Apple -- another reason it can charge premium prices for its devices.
Apart from paying extra and buying a Signature PC or a Mac, one workaround for a junk-infested PC is to simply take the time to de-install everything that isn't wanted, and then run a system-imaging utility to make a snapshot of everything at that point. If anything goes wrong, you can restore that image, minus the stuff you don't want. Some machines even include a system-imaging or backup tool that will partly automate this process, but be warned that many such tools simply consist of a utility that restores from a hidden partition -- which still includes all the stuff you don't want.
Uninstall is an area where Windows 8 makes things better: New Windows 8 apps from the Windows Store are required to have an easy and complete uninstall. Microsoft bragged about this at the Windows 8 launch. The same isn't true of older Windows apps, which they now refer to as "desktop apps." They use their older uninstall routines.
If the crapware habit has persisted this long, even into the Windows 8 age, it's hard to see it going away anytime soon. It's too lucrative a channel for the PC makers to abandon entirely. But that doesn't mean we have to take it lying down.