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Bloatware: What it is and how to get rid of it

Preston Gralla | Aug. 24, 2015
Is your new Windows system laden with unnecessary -- or even harmful -- software? Here's a rundown of what to look for and how (or if) you can uninstall it.

An advantage to this type of software is that it's up-front -- in fact, it has to be, because the software company wants you to use it and then, hopefully, buy it. In fact, It's not uncommon for PC makers to publicize the trialware that comes with their computers, assuming that many people will consider that a benefit. Another advantage is that this type of add-on is usually easily uninstalled.

Utilities and useful apps

Manufacturers frequently include their own software on PCs they sell. For example, Lenovo often includes its Lenovo Solution Center, a maintenance application that does things such as checking your hardware for problems, and making sure you update software.

PC vendors often also pre-install full versions of specialized third-party software. For example, Cyberlink Media Suite, a common add-on, has a set of tools for creating videos, editing photos, playing DVDs and other media, burning media and more. Cyberlink also makes the PowerDVD software that you'll sometimes find on Dell PCs. Nero, a tool for burning CDs and DVDs, is another popular one.

In some instances you can uninstall the software, and in other instances you can't. Whether you consider such add-ons to be a bonus or needless bloat depends on how likely you are to use them. Note that in many cases, these utilities duplicate functionality that's already present in the Windows OS.

Adware

Finally, there's adware, a particularly nasty form of bloatware that exists solely to pump ads to the user, either via websites or via popups that come up directly on your computer screen. Adware can do worse than irritate you and/or slow your PC down -- it can spy on you as well, or expose your system to other dangers.

Are things getting better -- or worse?

Several months ago, the Superfish ad-injection program that was preinstalled on some Lenovo laptops also opened a serious security hole in people's systems. Superfish not only delivered ads to people when they browsed the Web, it also made systems susceptible to "man-in-the-middle" attacks by hackers that could spy on communications between a computer and websites that should have been secure but that Superfish rendered vulnerable.

More recently, Lenovo was embroiled in another bloatware-related brouhaha. The BIOS firmware in some of its laptops was found to automatically download a variety of Lenovo software and services, even if a clean install of Windows was done on the machine. This caused a vulnerability security. Lenovo has since taken the tool out of the BIOS firmware of the PCs it shipped after June and has released a BIOS update that removes the software.

Analysts agree that this type of attack has been a problem -- and remains one. But they disagree about whether things are getting better or worse.

 

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