The Crapware Plague: Fed Up And Fighting Back!

Would you buy a PC from a vendor that treats you like an idiot, wastes your time and makes your life miserable? Chances are, you already do.
Would you buy a PC from a vendor that treats you like an idiot, wastes your time and makes your life miserable? Chances are, you already do."Crapware" is the term used to describe all of the useless junk that hardware OEMs like to pre-install on new systems. It is almost always free -- if you don't count the cost of the time and trouble required to scrape this garbage off a brand-new system.

PCPro just posted an article that analyzes the crapware installed on new systems from nine of the world's biggest computer makers. It also runs performance and boot-time tests on each system to demonstrate just how crapware can cripple even a spanking-new Windows PC.

Some of the findings didn't surprise me one bit. Apple comes out on top with the only system that was truly crapware-free. (Of course, Apple also charges more for its hardware in return for delivering a seamless user experience and carefully tuned system performance.) Dell and Asus systems topped the list of Windows PCs with a very low crapware count.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have basket cases like Sony and Acer. The Acer Aspire took nearly three minutes to boot with its full compliment of crapware, yet a clean Aspire started up in less than one minute. The Sony VAIO was even worse: In full factory crapware mode, it took an astounding 3:17 to boot up. A brand new HP Pavilion didn't fare much better.

Most of the time, we're not talking about software that any sane human being could possibly want. This includes crippleware versions of various D-list games; try-and-nag versions of desktop "utilities" that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy; and junk like the "Me & My VAIO" multimedia suite that would be infuriating even if it wasn't utterly redundant.

How can your company steer clear of this high-tech dumpster fire? Here are some tips:

- First, read the PCPro article. It calls out the worst offenders by name and documents exactly how their behavior translates into misery for millions of PC buyers. Take notes and vote with your wallets.

- Some of these vendors sell the same systems through a dedicated small-business division. Dell is one example; according to some folks with whom I discussed this article, PCs purchased through its SMB site are far less likely to contain crapware. And in most cases anyone, including sole proprietors and even consumers, can purchase their PCs in this manner.

- Before you buy, ask a vendor what type of OS and driver backup media it provides. Some companies will actually include CDs with a licensed copy of Windows and essential drivers; these allow you to wipe a system's hard disk and perform a fresh, crapware-free installation.

Other vendors supply a "system restore" DVD that simply includes a disk image, including the OS and all of the crapware. For some reason, I find this attempt to force users into accepting crapware especially infuriating, and I wouldn't do business with one of these vendors if my life depended on it.

- As a last resort, there are applications that will remove crapware or at least minimize its impact. A second PCPro article goes into detail on some popular choices, but my favorite is a no-brainer: CCleaner is fast, efficient, reliable and free. Among other features, it can clean up a crapware-befouled Windows Registry, and it provides an easy way to identify (and kill) unwanted Windows startup applications.

For more advanced users, however, I can also highly recommend a utility called Autoruns. It requires a bit of technical skill to use; in the hands of a novice, it can seriously hose a Windows system. Once you're comfortable with Autoruns, however, there is no better way to hunt down and exterminate even the sneakiest OEM crapware.

Some of these vendors will whine that customers want the "opportunity" to try their crapware. Some may even admit that deals with crapware developers bring in some big bucks. Those are both lame, utterly predictable excuses.

Crapware isn't a plague being visited upon us by shadowy hackers or spyware-planting sociopaths. It is something that PC makers choose deliberately to install on their systems, even when they know that paying customers will suffer as a result.

If a Web site did this to your system, your antivirus software would flag it in an instant. When a PC maker does it to your system, you pay for the privilege. And nothing will change until buyers decide that they're sick of being played like a bunch of suckers.