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If you hate PC bloatware, here are the vendors to avoid

Mark Hachman | March 16, 2015
Lenovo may have publicly buried bloatware, but it's anything but dead. After the company's Superfish scandal, we shopped Best Buy and found it alive and well on major vendors' PC offerings. A little research should save you from the worst of it, though. Here's what we learned.

Lenovo may have publicly buried bloatware, but it's anything but dead. After the company's Superfish scandal, we shopped Best Buy and found it alive and well on major vendors' PC offerings. A little research should save you from the worst of it, though. Here's what we learned. 

Bloatware is as bloatware does

We call it bloatware, but PC executives make clear that they install software on PCs to benefit consumers and pad tiny profit margins. The vast majority is harmless (if obnoxious), and some, such as a year's subscription to Microsoft's Office 365, arguably increase a PC's value without increasing the price.

The now-infamous Superfish is an adware tool that supplied its own paid search results, and it came preinstalled on certain Lenovo PCs. Intended as a service to help users comparison-shop, Superfish was more than annoying — it was a security risk. (The developers behind Superfish claim there's no security risk at all, while researchers disagree. The Superfish vulnerability has been found in other apps as well.)

Lenovo apologized and said it would make amends — though its commitment to reducing bloatware actually comes with several loopholes. If nothing else, however, Lenovo's Superfish seppuku did one thing right: It shone a spotlight on exactly how widespread bloatware is. Our trip to Best Buy yielded pages of notes on preinstalled apps on PCs. 

Not-so-secret shopping

At Best Buy, we jotted down the bloatware apps inside individual PCs from Asus to Toshiba. Our conclusions: Bloatware varied not just from vendor to vendor, but from model to model. The more disk or flash storage a PC had, the freer some vendors seemed to feel to fill it up with unwanted third-party software. Conversely, tablets, regardless of vendor, seemed to offer less bloatware.

Here's an unexpected surprise: The one no-name tablet that Best Buy offered included no bloatware at all, suggesting that looking outside the usual list of name-brand suppliers might spare you the trouble.

So which models offer what? We've listed our findings, but we can tell you that Lenovo was the worst culprit for bloatware that we found, with Hewlett-Packard right behind. Dell, to its credit, seemed to have less bloatware than the others. We'd also say that the Lenovo machines in retail have arguably the highest percentage of useless apps, period.

What you'll find, as well, is that many vendors hide bloatware behind their own brands. Rather than requiring you to seek out your own cloud services, for example, a company like Hewlett-Packard will simply strike a deal with a third party, then provide an "HP Connected Drive" app.

That's why restricting bloatware to "Lenovo's own apps" doesn't necessarily mean that Lenovo won't be offering apps you don't want. It's just a strategy that everyone else already uses.

 

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