Bloatware, crapware, shovelware: No matter what you call it, the junk that PC makers dump onto new PCs is nothing short of a mess. The situation was thrust into the spotlight last week when it was revealed that several Lenovo PCs were preloaded with "Superfish" adware that actively left users vulnerable to attack. The software compromised secure HTTPS web connections in a quest to inject ads on the sites you visit... and make Lenovo a few nickels.
There's no doubt about it: Even though the root vulnerability came from Superfish, Lenovo messed up. Hard. This shouldn't have happened, period. But Lenovo didn't toss its users to the wolves out of malice — instead, the Superfish debacle is a natural extension of the entire bloatware epidemic.
Why do hardware vendors knowingly stuff new PCs with junk that makes your experience worse? And what can you do about it? Let's dig in.
Dolla dolla bills y'all
Bloatware exists because we're all cheap bastards, and rightfully so.
Money's tight, and even the cheapest PCs are a major, multi-hundred dollar investment. But good news! Prices are plummeting in the wake of dirt-cheap Chromebooks and Microsoft's resulting counter-attack. The NPD group says that the average selling price of Windows computers fluctuated between just $415 and $430 in October 2014 — 10 percent lower than prices a year earlier, and a new low watermark for PCs.
While that sounds good on paper, deep down it's actually troubling news for the PC industry. Mainstream personal computers are a cut-throat business; prices have been racing to the bottom for years now. PC vendors make little to no money on such slim margins, which is a core part of the reason HP is splitting off its PC division (again) , Dell took itself private, and Sony and Samsung have bowed out of the PC industry to varying degrees. There's simply no real money to be made on dirt-cheap hardware.
PC makers don't really believe that short-lived antivirus trialware is the best security solution for you, or that adding browser toolbars will make your life easier, or that a "visual discovery tool" like Superfish truly adds to the user experience. The developers of bloatware pay hardware makers cold, hard cash to pump your PC full of this crap and get in front of your eyeballs. That extra revenue often makes all the difference for vendors between taking a bath on competitively priced PCs, or eking out a small profit. (There's a reason pricier premium laptops often contain far less bloatware than budget PCs.)
It's a nasty, symbiotic relationship for bloatware developers, PC makers, and everyday users. Bloatware effectively subsidizes PC prices. If it weren't for all that crud, you'd pay more — perhaps much more — for your computer.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.