Fire up a shiny new Windows 8 ultrabook or an all-in-one from a major vendor offering such a product this fall, and you're likely to see something you thought would by now have been banished from the PC world: crapware. Tons of it. Performance-sapping "system protection" software, productivity applications you don't need, media organizers you'll never use.
Why, after all this time and so much negative press, do PC manufacturers still ship their best and brightest PCs with a dumpster's worth of software no one cares about, and which harms system performance and stability to boot?
The biggest reason: it helps offset cost. The makers of many of those programs pay the PC manufacturers to pre-load their systems with such apps. Those trial versions of anti-virus suites or "starter" versions of Microsoft Office are there to help up-sell users to the real thing. Another apparent reason is the "out-of-box experience" theory -- the idea that a user will consider a PC to be more worth his money if it comes with certain types of software functionality available the minute he hits the power switch.
This latter argument hasn't been true for ages now for two reasons. One, most everyone with even modest PC experience has specific, preferred programs they'd rather rely on for such things. They're more likely to just load those in and pick up where they left off. Two, as more of the average user's experience moves online and into a Web browser, preloaded software becomes all the more a white elephant (or red herring, depending on which metaphor you find most fitting).
We got in touch with representatives from several major PC makers -- Dell, HP, Toshiba, Samsung, Acer, Lenovo -- and asked them for a rundown of what software is being pre-loaded into their new Windows 8 machines. The results we got fit into roughly three categories:
- Software provided by the OEM for the sake of system functionality (e.g., hardware drivers, vital system-management tools).
- Software provided by the OEM for the sake of optional added functionality specific to the system (such as Samsung's S Pen software).
- Software provided by third parties (trial software).
The first category is hard to argue with: few people want to snap open a spanking new PC and discover the camera or touchpad doesn't work. The second can be reasonable, like the S Pen apps, but is often more questionable, because many of those programs are badly written and add little to the user's experience. The program that looks for Sony-specific updates on my Sony VAIO notebook, for instance, hangs for minutes on end, for no particular good reason, whenever I restore the system from sleep.
The third category, trialware and junkware, is the most egregious. I can't count the number of times I had to troubleshoot someone else's system because the preloaded Roxio CD/DVD burning package's drivers were doing horrible, unpredictable things to the rest of the system, or because some buggy variety of factory-added antivirus software was creating more problems than it solved.
Here's what we got back from the PC makers in question, regarding what OEM and third-party apps are loaded into many of their most recent Windows 8 machines. In the case of Lenovo we got the software list from their product pages.
|Samsung ATIV Smart PC||S Pen apps (S Note, S Memo, S Cloud), Quick Starter, AllShare Play||None|
|Acer S7 series||Acer Ring, Acer Cloud, Acer Theft Shield||Microsoft Office 2010 Trial, Microsoft Windows Live Essentials, Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader, newsXPresso, Cyberlink MediaEspresso, WildTangent Demo Games, Skype, McAfee Internet Security Suite trial, MyWinLocker|
|Toshiba U925T-S2300||TOSHIBA BookPlace, TOSHIBA Disc Creator, TOSHIBA Maintenance Utility, TOSHIBA Media Player by sMedio Truelink+, TOSHIBA PC Health Monitor, TOSHIBA Recovery Disk Creator, TOSHIBA Resolution+® Upconvert Plug-in for Media Player, TOSHIBA Service Station, TOSHIBA Sleep Utility, TOSHIBA Video Player, TOSHIBA eco Utility||Microsoft® Windows Essentials 2012, Microsoft® Office (60-day Trial), Norton Internet Security 2013 (30-day trial subscription), Norton Laptop Checkup, SRS Premium Sound 3D®, WildTangent® Game Console|
|Acer Aspire 7600U||AcerCloud Docs, Acer Recovery Management, Acer Identity Card, Acer Live Update, Acer Accessory Store, Acer Initiatives, Acer Explorer, AcerCloud Portal||Wild Tangent®, clear.fi Media, clear.fi Photo, Cyberlink® MediaEspresso, AIR Gesture, McAfee® Internet Security Suite, Hotkey Utility, MyWinLocker Suite, Nero 12 Essentials, Amazon weblink, Gomaji (Taiwan only), Lovefilm® web link, MyET, Spotify, Evernote®, Communication, Skype, Kindle, News Xpresso, Txtr, Hulu, IVI.RU, Netflix, 7Digital, Spotify, TuneIn, Amazon®, eBay®, Rakuten Gateway, Adera, Cut The Rope, Mahjong, Minesweeper, Pinball FX2, Shark Dash, Solitaire, Tap Tiles, Treasures of Montezuma III, Wild Tangent®, Wordament, ChaCha®, Crystal Eye, Encyclopaedia Britannica, iCookbook, Merriam Webster, WeatherBug, StumbleUpon, Travel, Ctrip|
|Dell Lattitude / XPS models||Windows 8 Getting Started Tile, My Dell & Dell Backup & Recovery, Dell Shop App||Microsoft Office Trial (30-day), McAfee (Inspiron only), eBay (Inspiron only), Amazon Kindle, Amazon Taskbar App, eBay Desktop Icon (Inspiron only)|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 (consumer focus)||Lenovo Cloud Storage by SugarSync, Lenovo Companion, Lenovo Energy Management, Lenovo Motion Control, Lenovo Support Center, Lenovo Transition||Accuweather, Amazon Kindle, Birzzle, Cyberlink YouCam, eBay, Evernote, Fishing Joy, Intelligent Touchpad, McAfee® AntiVirus Plus, Microsoft® Office 2010, OneKey® Recovery, RaRa, Skype|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Twist (business focus)||Lenovo Cloud Storage||AccuWeather, Amazon Kindle, BlueStacks -- Android app player, Evernote, Expense Management, Fruit Ninja, Microsoft® Office (trial), Rara -- Music, Skype|
At least one conclusion is easy to draw from this: the less expensive machines, like Acer, have that much more third-party software pre-added as a way to offset the cost.