How to Avoid Bloatware
Purpose: The purpose of this how to article is to familiarize non-technical computer users with what bloatware is, what bloatware does and how to avoid it.
What is Bloatware?
Bloatware is unwanted or unneeded software. It is often pre-installed on new computers or bundled with other software. You’ve seen it before, even if you are unaware you have. For example, remember when you installed Adobe Acrobat Reader because you needed to view a PDF? Chances are, if you were not paying very close attention, you missed the part where you had a choice to install or not install bloatware. Chances are you installed it, and here’s how it happen.
How Does Bloatware Get on a Computer?
Above is the initial installation screen for Adobe Acrobat Reader DC. On first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. The majority of people installing this application will quickly click the ‘Install Now’ button and hurry along to viewing their PDF. But what did they miss? Maybe a better question is, why does Adobe give this widely-used software away for free?
In both cases, the answer is bloatware. Adobe creates revenue by bundling additional third-party software with Acrobat Reader. Most people install it without a second thought. Notice that the installer is set to install these programs by default.
Another example of bloatware are the numerous pre-installed applications that are included with new laptop and desktop computers. Different manufacturers vary in their aggressiveness with pre-installed applications, but HP laptops contain the neatly the most unneeded applications.
In the above image, there are 19 pre-installed applications from a HP laptop. What do they all have in common? Not a single one of them is necessary for the proper functionality on the laptop. In fact, it could be argued that these pre-installed applications are actually detrimental to the performance of the laptop. Bloatware makes a computer slow before you even have a chance to use it.
While we are using HP as an example, it is common practice for all hardware manufacturers to include bloatware on both laptops and desktops.
What are the Dangers of Bloatware?
Adobe Bundled Software Example
The overall danger of bloatware is that it makes your computer slow. Let’s examine the ramifications of installing Abode Acrobat with the bundled software. Close examination shows us that the first bundled application is the McAfee Security Scan Plus application. Although it states that this application will not modify existing IT security software, it does not state that it will not interfere with existing security software. Nor does not state that it will not use valuable system resources to run scans. It fails to mention that it will not collect usage data and report it back to McAfee. Finally, it makes no mention of what antivirus software it was tested against, or what the results of those tests might have been.
These are just some of the red-flags for this bundled software. IT best practices state that only one security scanner should reside on a Windows operating system at any given time. Further, the selection and installation of any software in a work environment should be a well thought out and tested exercise. Even in cases where the software could be of some practical use, the application should be thoroughly tested before rolling it out.
HP Laptop Example
In the second example the dangers and risks can vary. If there are 19+ pieces of unnecessary software included with your new laptops, chances are at least a couple of them launch on startup. As a general rule, a properly optimized computer will have the fewest number of applications launching at startup as possible. Why? Because people want faster computers, faster boot times and a better, more reliable experience while they are working. Further, bundled software is often configured to operate as the default application for many processes. In the example above, Cyberlink PhotoDirector could alter your expected experience if you are used to using Gimp or any other photo editing software. This leads to wasted time and productivity.
Finally, not all bloatware is created equally. The above examples are pretty benign, but some bloatware can contain malware or viruses, endangering your privacy and security.
How do you Avoid Bloatware?
Avoiding bloatware is your first step towards having a faster computer. So, how do you do it? First, pay attention. When you are installing any application, ensure that no bundled software is installing with it. If the software you need is forcing you to install something you don’t need, then consider using a different application to accomplish the task at hand. No reputable software vendor will force their users to install unneeded and unwanted applications. You should always be able to opt out.
Second, take a look at what applications are already installed on your computer. Remove anything that seems to be unneeded. If you are not sure whether you need an application or not, err on the side of caution and leave it be. But, if you are certain something can go, get rid of it.
Be sure remove any preinstalled application that you don’t recognize when you get a new computer. Reinstall your OS from the included installation media and configure it from scratch, if that is within your means. This ensures that you are starting from a clean slate. Use a tool like the pcdecrapifier to easily remove unwanted applications, if the above seems too difficult.
Finally, periodically perform computer optimizations with tools like Ccleaner. Ccleaner will allow you to view which programs and services are running at startup. It gives you options to easily disable startup applications or remove them altogether.