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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.

What PC makers say about bloatware

Lenovo said it will reduce the type of software pre-installed on its machines to "the operating system, security tools, Lenovo's own apps, and any software necessary to make the hardware run properly." We asked other PC vendors if they planned to follow Lenovo's lead. Surprisingly, many claimed they were already out in front.

"Dell listened to customer feedback and began aggressively reducing pre-loaded software on our consumer PCs more than 18 months ago," a Dell spokesman said in an email. "The number of applications we pre-load is typically less than half of what other OEMs load, and are selected solely based on the benefits they provide to the end user."

The spokeman added that Dell exercised caution.  "We have strict policies in place to minimize pre-loaded applications and ensure software like Superfish that compromises system security doesn't find its way into our system images."

Acer representatives said they prioritize security. "According to Acer's global software team lead, we pre-check third party software and applications to ensure they do not include anything that will substantiate security concerns," a spokeswoman said in an email. "We also work very closely with leading security providers to make sure they constantly update their definition list in order to detect adware types."

Hewlett-Packard offers a way to check what bloatware is loaded before you buy it: On its website, you can select an individual product, then drill into the specs. 

"Did Lenovo's announcement change HP's strategy? I would say no," said Mike Nash, the vice president responsible for the consumer PC experience at HP. "We are constantly increasing our focus on delivering the best customer experience possible," 

Nash said that HP worked "very very closely with Microsoft" to minimize boot time and maximize battery life, in part, by minimizing what was loaded onto the machine. 

"I think the biggest to make sure that the industry understands that pre-installed software is not the same thing as software that changes security configurations on your PC," Nash said.

In the eye of the beholder

To be fair, any definition of bloatware is by some degree subjective. Apps like Lenovo Share, for example, may seem extraneous until you need to send a large file quickly to another Thinkpad user. 

So-called "trialware" — paid apps that offer a free short-term subscription in an effort to convince you to sign up — is a grayer area. We'd also include a year's subscription to Office 365 as a paid benefit, rather than bloatware. 

But the real gotchas — the apps that affect how your PC behaves — are those that load at startup, quietly operate in the background, and suck up memory and computing resources. Depending on your level of knowledge, you may or may not be able to detect those before you actually make your purchase. But there's good news: We can help you wipe out any bloatware that comes with your PC, with just a few common, free, and easily downloadable tools.


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