If you do buy from a retailer, be wary of offers to load "special deals" onto your machine, or "free upgrades" to additional apps — as we heard one salesperson offering. Remember, avoiding bloatware is why you're reading this story.
How to avoid bloatware in the first place?
At this point, the short list of surefire ways to ensure a bloatware-free PC are to build it yourself, using an OEM copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8; shop at the Microsoft Store for a Signature PC; or buy from a boutique system builder. The latter option isn't foolproof, but boutique builders are generally obsessed with maximizing performance, and bloatware stands in the way.
"We don't ship any bloatware. Ever," said Kevin Wasielewski, the chief executive and co-founder of OriginPC, a boutique builder, in an email. "We only ship what our customers request to have installed."
If you have the time, building your own (desktop) PC is another way. You know what's going into the machine, and you'll have to total control over what's loaded onto the hard drive. If you're a little nervous, try talking to your local computer shop about assembling one for you. (Just make sure to point out that you don't want any additional services loaded in without your permission.)
Notebooks, however, currently aren't a build-your-own proposition. If you want a bloatware-free notebook, we'd recommend buying it from Microsoft directly: As with its desktops, its Signature Edition laptops come bloatware-free.
That's the end goal here: Give PC customers a choice. Most consumers would have no problem with HP or Lenovo or Dell offering discounted software directly to their customers, if that software were offered through their respective Web sites, and on an opt-in basis.
That option exists today. Best Buy already offers a digital download site for customers to download a Trend Micro anti-malware solution on this Lenovo laptop, for example. PC makers — many of which already provide sites to download firmware and their own app updates — could do the same. Or, like Hewlett-Packard, companies could offer a digital downloads page where customers could pick and choose which apps they wished to install.
HP's Nash, however said that a pure download-it-yourself strategy probably wouldn't work. "Could you do it? Sure? Why don't we do it? At the end of the day, I don't think most customers are going to go out there and sort of hunt those things down on that Web site," Nash said.
Maybe bloatware isn't going away anytime soon. Episodes like Lenovo's Superfish scandal, however, show that PC makers aren't immune to user outrage. The more users wise up and steer clear, the sooner bloatware could lose its power for PC makers' bottom lines.
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