What Not to ’Ware


Big box retailers like Best Buy ( BBY ) and Circuit City ( CC ) will soon, for a fee, begin offering personal computers scrubbed free of “bloatware”, the pre-installed packages of trial software that comes on PCs. But the programs, which software companies pay computer manufacturers between $2 and $10 per machine to install, don't cost the consumer a dime. So is it more cost effective to erase all that free stuff?

“It’s a valuable service to have bloatware removed from your PC because it saves you the time and frustration of having to remove it on your own," says PC Magazine editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff. "Especially since most of the things that come on these new PCs are for applications you will never buy or that you already own,” He adds, “It should be noted that manufacturers are offering to deliver bloatware-free systems for a premium cost which probably equals the $30 Best Buy is going to charge to do the exact same thing.”

In that case, the programs would never be loaded and wouldn’t have to be removed which, no matter how expertly done, can leave debris in a system. Especially when done by relative amateurs who consider themselves experts.

“I've heard horror stories of ‘techs’ that couldn't even get this right,” says Mike Reilly of Tech Philly, a Philadelphia-based computer repair service. “Ninety percent of the work is just going through the ‘Add/Remove Programs’ tool one by one and removing all but the bare essentials.”

Indeed, for the nominal price, the consensus seems to be that having the freeloading programs removed professionally is a smart move.

“On average bloatware slows down a PC by 20-30%,” says Reilly. “The software that makes up bloatware is usually of a lower quality, and as a result there are more problems with stability and security.”

Ulanoff recommends talking to the company you’re where you buy your computer. "You can ask Dell ( DELL ) someone to deliver a computer without [the programs.] But if you’re buying from Best Buy, that’s a worthwhile service.”

Both men agree that the programs manufacturers push are unnecessary. “The antivirus is one of the few things [to buy] that’s worthwhile,” says Ulanoff. “The problem with what’s delivered on these systems is that it may not align with your needs.”

Reilly concurs. “The whole reason PCs come with bloatware is because the software companies don't think people would buy their software otherwise. They just pop up and nag the user until they pay to make it go away. I don't think most users would intentionally go out of their way to install most of these applications.”

When you’re sinking hundreds of dollars into a computer, paying either the fee for bloatware removal or the premium for a machine that never had it seems to be the popular choice. Why pinch pennies over something that will make a new computer run that much smoother?

“Most [programs] have some practical use, but the negatives usually outweigh the positives,” says Reilly. “There's almost always free alternatives that offer better functionality and consume less resources.”

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