Android Licensing Terms Welcome Crapware

License for distributing Android gives enormous freedom to those making the phone. An unwanted software explosion has resulted.

Ed Hansberry, Contributor

August 26, 2011

3 Min Read

Software that comes preinstalled on computers by the manufacturers, like trial versions of antivirus software, games, photo services, and anything else you can think of, are generally called crapware. It helps subsidize the cost of the machine, though, as the software vendors are paying companies like Dell or HP to preinstall it.

On a PC this is usually not a big deal, especially in the enterprise. The quickest fix is to just reformat the hard drive, load up the operating system and necessary drivers, and you're ready to go. Even less tech-savvy consumers can run uninstall routines and clean most of it off.

This isn't the case with phones though. When you buy a phone, most of the time what it has on it is on there forever because it is baked into the ROM image. That trial version of Need for Speed is as much a part of that phone as the Web browser or email app. The only difference is, you have to fork over $5 to get Need for Speed to work right and if you don't like it, well, you can just move the icon out of your way. But you cannot get rid of it.

Android is most often the culprit of this kind of marketing. Being open source, the license for distributing Android gives enormous freedom to those making the phone, and with enormous freedom comes enormous responsibility. So, of course, no responsibility is shown and the phone makers see how much crapware they can install to help defray the cost of the device as much as possible.

When the marketing folks get involved, the fun really begins. AT&T, for example loads a ton of "useful" apps on the Samsung Captivate. AT&T Music, AT&T Radio, AT&T Navigator, and AT&T Maps litter the screen with apps that can usually be replaced by third-party options that do a much better job at a lower cost (that means free), and get updated with some regularity.

Mike Jennings at PC Pro has even more examples from phones built by HTC and Sony Ericsson.

Some people find a way to get rid of this junk by rooting the phone or customizing their own ROM build, but those are the tiny minority of the population. Most people will just grin and bear it, including IT organizations. If your IT organization likes to run security software on the phone and they plan on supporting the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro, they had better like McAfee's WaveSecure, because it's preloaded and wants to be configured before you connect the phone to Google's services.

This is not a problem on Windows Phone 7, Apple iOS, or BlackBerry, all three if which are very tightly controlled by the platform makers. There might be some carrier software on the phone, but it's usually support in nature. For example, Windows Phone 7 does allow the carrier to install some carrier-specific apps, like the "Verizon My Phone" app, but no trialware and there are size restrictions on how big the apps can be.

The problem will only get worse. Google has little control over how carriers modify the Android OS, and as long as carriers see money in this model, it will continue. That is a shame, because the issue has nothing to do with the Android platform itself, just the licensing model.

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