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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.

Ken Westin, a security analyst with the security firm Tripwire, is firmly in the "getting-better" camp. "Superfish brought a lot of publicity to the issue and gave bloatware a bad name, especially in the enterprise," he says. "Companies don't want to open themselves to security holes and they're leery of buying computers with bloatware. Because of that, vendors will be forced to cut back on what they preinstall on machines."

However, he adds a caveat: "If you buy a Windows PC from a mass-market retailer like Office Depot, you're still going to find bloatware on it, because ordinary consumers still aren't that tuned into the issue. But specialty retailers that cater to the more sophisticated buyer, like Frys.com, are less likely to sell as many PCs with bloatware."

Jack Gold of the J. Gold Associates analyst firm sees the bloatware problem getting worse, not better, for economic reasons.

"The fundamental problem is that Windows PCs are a very low-margin business, especially on the low end, and vendors will do whatever they can to increase revenue," he says. "Software makers pay them to put bloatware on PCs. No one will tell you how much money is involved, but I estimate it might be as high as $20 a machine. If you sell a $300 computer, that $20 per machine is a lot of additional revenue. So I see no end in sight to bloatware."

He agrees with Westin that computers sold at mass-market retailers will likely have more bloatware on them than those sold at specialty retailers.

As for what PC manufacturers have to say about the issue, the answer is not much. I reached out to HP, Dell, Lenovo and Acer, and none of them would talk to me about it. However, on February 28, 2015, Lenovo published a press release that said, "Our standard image will only include the operating system and related software, software required to make hardware work well (for example, when we include unique hardware in our devices, like a 3D camera), security software and Lenovo applications."

Uninstalling bloatware

So what to do about bloatware on your PC?

In some cases you can remove it simply by uninstalling it. A good strategy when you get a new system is to check it for software before you install any applications of your own and uninstall any programs you know you won't want. (If you're not sure whether you want it or not -- even after doing a bit of research -- then simply note its existence so that you can go back and remove it later if you want to.)

On the other hand, there are preinstalled programs that most users can't do anything about. For example, Samsung was, for a while, selling its systems with preinstalled software called SW Update that was designed to handle updates for Windows, drivers and associated software. However, a small program inside SW Update called Disable_Windowsupdate.exe blocked Windows Update from working properly -- and could not be removed. On June 26, 2015, Samsung changed the software to allow Windows Update to work correctly.

 

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