PC Bloatware Isn’t Just Annoying, It’s Dangerous Too
You think of buying a computer, but end up with a platform used by its manufacturer to launch an endless barrage of unwanted software and services. Bloatware, a term commonly used to refer to the suite of pre-installed applications that ship with a computer, continues to be extremely popular among PC OEMs, for a number of business reasons that make sense – to them. The unfortunate result is that we’ve gotten to a point where it’s not just the user experience that’s at stake. Recent reports have made it clear that these programs often compromise user privacy and security.
Bloatware has long been annoying, but it hasn’t always been a harmful practice. At the time Sony for example (which at the time was still selling laptops) used to put Sony Pictures movies on their machines. These movies took up gigabytes of hard drive space, and you still had to buy the titles before you could watch them – they weren’t provided for free, you just didn’t have to download them. Was it boring? Sure. But was it a deal breaker? Not really.
Things are quite different now. We’ve entered an era where it seems PC OEMs don’t pay too much attention to what’s going on on their computers. You’ll find programs such as a free trial of an antivirus suite that you don’t really need, an application for finding internet marketing bargains, programs for converting pdf files and more. These programs are often configured to run on startup, which means that whenever a user logs into their system, these programs also start and consume a significant amount of memory.
And then things got worse.
The Superfish fiasco earlier this year, in which Lenovo was caught installing adware on several of its PCs, should have shown OEMs where to draw the line, but it didn’t. Since then, we’ve seen Lenovo repeat the same mistake once more, and Dell and Toshiba have also been seen doing the same. Lenovo is the largest PC OEM in the world, and Dell is also in the top three. Together, these companies ship more than 100 million computers each year.
Microsoft has set an example with its iconic machines, including the Surface Pro 3, Pro 4 and the Surface Book, none of which come with this unnecessary software. However, this is not enough. The company must set up a system to monitor the type of programs that its partners install on their computers. Earlier this year, we asked the company what steps it was taking on this front, but at the time it said nothing other than to make sure it actively disables reported adware. This is obviously not enough.
The average price of a computer has come down over the years and increased competition in the space has led to lower profit margins for PC OEMs. This means that alternative revenue options – like getting paid to install bloatware on their machines – have started to look more attractive to these companies. It’s conceivable that things may have gotten even worse in the future, as a number of new entrants are entering the space now, which will only increase the competition.
Companies must come up with a standard for preloaded software. Some pre-installed programs such as Microsoft Office can be extremely handy. Likewise, programs that are clearly made visible to users, and which can be removed later if desired, are not inherently bad. But hidden software that you can’t remove, spyware, malware, or programs that run on startup and affect performance without being made clear to users – these should be avoided at all costs.
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