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.
Bloatware is unwanted or unneeded software that 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 really needed to look at that PDF? Chances are, if you were not paying very close attention during the installation process, you were given a choice to either install or not install bloatware, and you chose to install it. How do we know this? Because, we literally run into bloatware that was unintentionally installed every single day.
Above is the initial installation screen for Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, which is a free application used primarily to view PDF files. On first glance there doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary. The majority of people installing this application without the aid of their IT professional would 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 with this free software by bundling it with additional software that most people install without a second thought. Look closely at the 'Optional Offers' included and 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 computer purchases. Different manufacturers vary in their aggressiveness with pre-installed applications, but in our experience working with companies throughout New Jersey, HP laptops contain 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, making it a slow computer 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.
Maybe a better question would be why is my computer so slow? Let's examine the ramifications of installing Abode Acrobat with the bundled software, as shown above. 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. It does not state that it will not use valuable system resources to run scans. It does not state that it will not collect usage data and report it back to McAfee. It does not state what antivirus software it was tested against, or what the results of those tests might have been. Any IT professional worth their salt would be leary of installing this product. 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.
In the second example - the pre-installed software included with new computers - 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 applicaitons launching at startup as possible. Why? Becuase 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 as you google how to change your default programs in Windows 10.
Finally, not all bloatware is created equally. The above examples are pretty benign, but some bloatware can contain malware or viruses. Some bloatware is poorly engineered and it's very presence will cause problems with you OS. Unless you are an 'IT Guy' or work for a managed IT services company it is probably best to err on the side of caution and avoid bloatware altogether.
Avoiding bloatware is your first step towards learning how to have a faster computer. So, how do you do it? FIrst, pay attention. When you are installing any application, ensure that not bundled software is installing with it. In cases where the software you need is forcing you to install something you don't need, 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.
Second, take a look at what is already installed on your computer and remove anything that seems to be unneeded. If you don't know what something is, chances are you don't need it. While it might not be causing any issues on your computer, it's better safe than sorry. Reinstalling an application removed by mistake is always better than paying the premium for a computer services and repair company to reinstall your OS. Additionally, when you get a new computer, remove any preinstalled application that you don't recognize. If you have the ablility and desire, reinstall your OS from the included installation media upon receipt of your new hardware. This ensures that you are starting from a clean slate. If that seems too wieldly, use a tool like the pcdecrapifier to easily remove unwanted applcations.
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.