Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


10:13 AM

Microsoft Bloatware Cleaning Offer Treats You Like Dirt

For just $99, Microsoft will eliminate the junk added to its Windows 7 PCs by OEM manufacturers. Steve Jobs would have enjoyed this development.

For followers of "the customer always comes first" cult, check out this great deal, available now at your local Microsoft Store: For just $99, a Windows genius will clear your Windows 7 desktop or laptop of OEM-installed bloatware.

Does it get any richer than this?

The average cost of a Windows PC notebook, as of February 2012, was just $513, according to market researcher NPD. In other words, making your Windows machine run well out of the box only requires paying Microsoft a 20% premium.

Let's contrast. Apple continues to generate record profits from its retail stores--minimalist, white-walled temples to product design and packaging, staffed by "geniuses" who help people configure their Apple devices for free. Meanwhile, the Microsoft "Signature" retail cleaning offer involves paying extra to nuke out-of-the-box junk. Now there's a customer experience destined for success.

To be clear, Microsoft also sells "Signature" PCs at its own chain of 22 retail stores and e-commerce shop. These PCs, which are billed as having been "optimized for top performance," don't hide their OEM origins, but subtract much of the added junkware. "We optimize all of our PCs with Microsoft Signature by removing unwanted software, adding antivirus, and tuning it for top speed," says the Microsoft website. "Brand new PCs should look and act brand new. That's why we remove all the unnecessary trialware and sample software that clutters up your PC to make it cleaner, faster and more fun to use."

Wall Street Journal technology review guru Walter Mossberg has advised consumers to consider buying the Signature version of any Windows machine. That's based on his tests of before-and-after--OEM versus Signature--laptops from HP, Sony, and Samsung, in which he found only slight speed gains from Signature, but a much better user experience.

Microsoft does include its own extra software on Signature machines by default: Windows Live Essentials (free email, instant messaging, photo-sharing, blogging), a Zune music and video player application, Microsoft Security Essentials, Internet Explorer "with Bing optimization," as well as starter versions of Microsoft Word and Excel. But upon request, Microsoft will remove its Signature add-ons.

Thankfully, few enterprise users see any OEM bloatware, thanks to the IT practice of wiping all new machines and installing a clean, junk-free client build. But for machines we use at home, excising bloatware on a new PC can be difficult. PC makers typically don't spell out which drivers or applications are necessary for their machines to function. Tellingly, Microsoft says its Signature service is backed by a specialized team, which investigates just what can be removed, versus what must be left present--but perhaps hidden in the Start menu to leave the desktop less cluttered.

You'll have to budget more than just a few minutes with the Windows "Add/Remove Programs" utility to remove bloatware on your own. One option is to look to dedicated bloatware-annihilation software such as PC Decrapifier, which costs one-quarter of Microsoft's service.

To recap: Microsoft builds an operating system that's tuned for high performance, OEM makers take money from third-party software developers to ship you a PC loaded with junk that slows it down, then you get to pay Microsoft to clean up the junk. Consumers are the clear losers here.

But Microsoft isn't the first company to attempt to charge extra with regards to bloatware purging. Notably, Sony in 2008 began offering a $50 "Fresh Start" option for some Vaio laptops. Aimed at professional users, the "upgrade" was sold as a way to maximize performance and hard drive space, especially in light of reviews highlighting the laptops' horrible startup times. After a public outcry, Sony backpedaled, and began offering the "clean" client build as a free option at the time of purchase.

Bloatware, however, isn't limited to the Windows realm. Most Android phones, for example, contain added junkware. Unfortunately, this software--which equipment manufacturers will install, then rarely if ever update--can introduce security vulnerabilities.

Last October, for example, security researcher Trevor Eckhart discovered that a logging application added by HTC to its smartphones could be inappropriately accessed by an attacker, who would be able to see a copy of all data logged. HTC pushed an emergency patch to fix the issue. But actually eliminating OEM add-ons requires relying on hardware hackers who create software to root the phones.

For Android lovers, there's an alternative. Google sells Nexus phones with just the Android operating system, and they regularly take top marks for design, performance, and security. Thus it's no surprise that last week, the news broke that Google plans to sell more phones using this model. "This is clearly a bid to get rid of the carrier-branded bloatware that many users don't like and often don't use," says Chris Spera at BYTE.

Here's to a new consumer rallying cry: Ban the bloat.

Employees and their browsers might be the weak link in your security plan. The new, all-digital Endpoint Insecurity Dark Reading supplement shows how to strengthen them. (Free registration required.)

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Apprentice
5/28/2012 | 1:34:41 PM
re: Microsoft Bloatware Cleaning Offer Treats You Like Dirt
Clearly there is a quasi ad model approach by PC manufacturers that ad crapware to their operating images. A true consumer friendly business would give the consumer the option for a clean, ad free install and make M$'s service obsolete for a fraction of the price.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/24/2012 | 10:33:00 PM
re: Microsoft Bloatware Cleaning Offer Treats You Like Dirt
The computer is cheaper with the bloatware than it otherwise would be. Its a cut-throat industry that earns very average returns on capital and basically anything that reduces costs for the manufacturers gets passed along to customers as savings. Its very simple economics. So your whole "recap" paragraph is pure rubbish. It should read: "You get a computer cheaper than it otherwise would be if you allow the bloatware. If you want the bloatware to disappear, you have to give those savings back".

Now does it sound so evil?
User Rank: Apprentice
5/23/2012 | 5:53:45 PM
re: Microsoft Bloatware Cleaning Offer Treats You Like Dirt
Are you new?
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 11/19/2020
New Proposed DNS Security Features Released
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  11/19/2020
How to Identify Cobalt Strike on Your Network
Zohar Buber, Security Analyst,  11/18/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2020-11-24
Barco wePresent WiPG-1600W devices have Improper Access Control. Affected Version(s): The Barco wePresent WiPG-1600W device has an SSH daemon included in the firmware image. By default, the SSH daemon is disabled and does not start at system boot. The system initialization scripts read a de...
PUBLISHED: 2020-11-24
In musl libc through 1.2.1, wcsnrtombs mishandles particular combinations of destination buffer size and source character limit, as demonstrated by an invalid write access (buffer overflow).
PUBLISHED: 2020-11-24
A SQL injection vulnerability was discovered in Karenderia Multiple Restaurant System, affecting versions 5.4.2 and below. The vulnerability allows for an unauthenticated attacker to perform various tasks such as modifying and leaking all contents of the database.
PUBLISHED: 2020-11-24
Fastweb FASTGate GPON FGA2130FWB devices through 2020-05-26 allow CSRF via the router administration web panel, leading to an attacker's ability to perform administrative actions such as modifying the configuration.
PUBLISHED: 2020-11-24
It is possible to inject malicious OGNL or MVEL scripts into the /context.json public endpoint. This was partially fixed in 1.5.1 but a new attack vector was found. In Apache Unomi version 1.5.2 scripts are now completely filtered from the input. It is highly recommended to upgrade to the latest ava...