The revenue can be the difference between profit and loss on a PC, especially the lowest-priced models, as OEMs have raced to the bottom bands to keep pace with cut-throat competitors. The practice goes back decades.
While the Superfish fiasco sparked renewed dump-crapware debate, Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group who specializes in tracking retail computer sales in the U.S., said calls to completely scrub PCs was idealistic at best.
"Compared with, say, five years ago, there is way, way less [bloatware] than there used to be," said Baker. "But at the end of the discussion, people who complain about this have their eyes on the sky. No one is giving the PC guys money, and so they have to make some very tough choices."
That reduction in crapware was driven, like everything, by economics. "It's been getting harder to pick up a couple of dollars here and there," Baker said. As software prices have plummeted and many add-on programs' functionality has been absorbed by either the OS or free offerings, like browsers, the selection of bundled software consumers were willing to pay for after their PC purchase shrank.
One of the few remaining junkware additions that still put money in OEM pockets was security software. "That's something that people need," Baker observed. "It's not bloatware, that's something that has some value."
No surprise, then, that Lenovo specifically said that security software offers wouldn't be stripped from its PCs.
Realistically, price-pressured OEMs have to have a way to monetize the customer after the sale, Baker argued. And if not crapware, then some other mechanism.
"They may turn to more connections to their own sites or others', to create opportunities to sell stuff to people, as opposed to getting the money up front [from pre-install deals]. The goal would be to depend more on [after-sale] consumer actions," Baker said.
Some have pointed out that Apple is able to sell its devices, Macs included, without adding third-party software; so other OEMs should be able to, as well.
However, that argument's fallacy lies in the fact that Apple creates its own software, and spends considerably to do so. Windows PC OEMs, even if they had the resources, don't have the expertise to replicate Apple's approach. Nor would they, not with multiple rivals ready to drive down prices in a sometimes-futile search for volume rather than profits.
Baker's point was that Lenovo will be pressed to generate revenue in other ways -- ways not tied with the price of the hardware -- by dropping pre-loads. "They have to find those shekels somewhere," he said.
"This is all rooted in a historically tough market," Baker said. "Pretty much everyone has these things, including Microsoft with its 30-day trials of Office 365. But OEMs have to deal with the changing environment."
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