What is 'bloatware', why should I care, and how do I fix it?
April 14, 2016 7:49 AM   Subscribe

After some research I have decided to buy this laptop, which has great specs for the price - but multiple reviews (like this one) say that while it's a good computer, it's "full of bloatware, which takes time (or a fresh Windows installation) to clean up." I barely even know what that means, much less how to actually go about doing it.

Well, ok, I guess I do know what it means - the computer comes with a bunch of programs already installed, some of which are apparently unnecessary or just plain bad. But, well. For someone who uses a computer for untold hours a day, I am pretty uninformed and skittish about how they actually work, and I just know that if I tried to fuck around with deleting "unnecessary" files, I'd wind up deleting something crucial. Yet apparently it is vitally important that I do so, although I'm not sure why (I assume it will run faster if I do?) or how to decide what is and is not delete-worthy. (Or, assuming a "clean install" is the way to go, how to go about doing that.)

Questions:

-Is this something I actually even need to worry about, or is this one of those "only power users actually care" things?
-If I do need to worry about it, is this something that I can or should attempt to do on my own?
-If I do need to do it and shouldn't do it on my own, can I pay someone else to do this, and what would be a reasonable price?

Thanks, guys! I am jazzed to have my very own, not-work-or-school-issued laptop for the first time ever, and I want to make sure I'm doing things right!
posted by showbiz_liz to Technology (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Broadly speaking, "bloatware" refers to applications installed by a product vendor which are not part of the base OS install, and which you don't need or want. In some cases bloatware is stuff that's there to serve the purposes of someone other than you (the end-user), for example by pushing ads in your face. Another common category of bloatware is stuff that serves a legitimate purpose, but is slower / buggier / somehow worse than various free alternatives.

You can try to clean it up piecewise, but don't. The solution, IMHO, is always a clean Windows install. The basic steps are 1) find out and record -- on paper -- your Windows 10 product key, 2) make a bootable USB drive >=4GB with the Windows 10 installer and 3) boot from the USB drive and do a clean-slate Windows install.

Detailed instructions can be found e.g. in Tom's Guide or How-To Geek. Or, just Google "clean Windows 10 install".

The Windows 10 installer is really pretty good about having native support for most of the modern hardware out there. However, it might be a good idea to have a wired Ethernet connection available on the off chance you have a weird WiFi chipset and need to download drivers after installation to make it work.
posted by sourcequench at 8:03 AM on April 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


If you buy that laptop or something comparable directly from the Microsoft store, the "Microsoft Signature Edition" computers come with Windows 10 and nothing else.

It's quite a breath of fresh air, honestly.
posted by mhoye at 8:11 AM on April 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


While you're setting up a new computer let me recommend the ninite installer. It let's you select, from a list of common programs, what you want to install and then gives you a single installer. Which installs the current version while avoid any additional bloatware/toolbar/junk.
posted by zinon at 8:14 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Bloatware will slow your computer down, may compromise your privacy in various ways, annoy you with interruptions, and in the worst cases may compromise your security. If you're not confident that you know what you're doing when it comes to reinstalling Windows, you shouldn't attempt to do it on your own. It's around 2-3 hours of work for someone that knows that they're doing, albeit with a lot of sit around and wait time. Pricing could vary from barter in kind with a friend that's willing to $20/hour to a trusted college age computer geek to $50/hour for some professionals.

The easy alternative is that Microsoft sells what they call Signature Edition versions of vendors laptops which are bloatware-free. You pay a little more for them, but they work well out of the box. If you don't need a dedicated graphics card, they currently have a Dell that's roughly equivalent in specs and price that has a touch screen rather than a dedicated graphics card.
posted by Candleman at 8:14 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have had success with http://www.decrap.org/.You can deselect any items/programs you want to keep.
posted by lungtaworld at 8:27 AM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


What is Bloatware?

The reason for it in the first place is to keep costs way down for you. Companies pay to have their software show up on the computers, reducing end-user costs. That is why the Signature Editions cost more.

The other parts related to Bloatware have already been answered above.
posted by TinWhistle at 8:29 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you don't need a dedicated graphics card, they currently have a Dell that's roughly equivalent in specs and price that has a touch screen rather than a dedicated graphics card.

Do you mean this one? (I can't say I've ever felt the need for a laptop touchscreen, but if it'll save me a huge headache, it might be worth the $50 extra...)
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:29 AM on April 14, 2016


Do you mean this one?

That's the one I was thinking of; if you search around a little there may be others worth looking at in your price range. I have a cousin of that laptop and it's fairly nice. Windows 10 has started to use the touchscreen in some slightly smart ways so it's become a nice if not essential feature in my laptop use.

Reinstalling Windows isn't so much hard as tedious most of the time and there's domain knowledge that makes a big difference if something does go wrong. If you have a friend that can be bribed with a reasonable amount of cash and beer, don't let the process completely deter you. But unless you know how to determine the exact model of WiFi card a laptop has and where to get updated drivers for it from, it's not something I recommend people just jump into.
posted by Candleman at 8:44 AM on April 14, 2016


In Windows 10 you can just do a "reset" rather than a traditional clean install. From what I've read this would not reinstall the bloatware. You'd want to do it first thing, before you installed any programs or saved any files on the machine.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 8:55 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you buy that laptop or something comparable directly from the Microsoft store, the "Microsoft Signature Edition" computers come with Windows 10 and nothing else.

I was going to recommend this. If you can find something that meets your specs on sale, it's not even that much more expensive, and may be cheaper than buying elsewhere - at least that's what I found when I bought my daughter's computer last year.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:56 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can get rid of (some) Bloatware on your own by using the Windows Add/Remove Programs area. You're not likely to break anything doing it this way. It's just a question of uninstalling the right stuff.

There's some disagreement on this, but it looks to me like resetting Windows 10 will put the bloatware right back. You would need to do a clean install from a flash drive to really get rid of bloatware, as described above. This isn't generally difficult, but I wouldn't recommend it to non-technical folks.

As an example, one thing manufacturers like to do with bloatware is install a "security" suite that expires in 90 days, giving you both dire warnings about paying to keep it running and removing it in favor of something free. The relevant functionality is actually built-in to Windows. These suites often do more harm than good.

There is an Acer computer on the Microsoft Store, similar in price and specs to the one you want, that will be bloatware free. This one won't play 3D games as well as the other one would, though it's both thinner and lighter. That being said, having a touch screen your laptop is really nice (and intuitive) for scrolling. It feels like a natural extension of the laptop's functionality if you're a smartphone user. My vote would be for the Dell with the touch screen.
posted by cnc at 10:06 AM on April 14, 2016


I recently bought a very similar Acer knowing it was full of bloat, and had a professional PC cleaner-upper set it up from scratch for $60. Well worth it it like me you don't want to risk doing your own reinstallation of Windows.
posted by beagle at 10:28 AM on April 14, 2016


I can't say I've ever felt the need for a laptop touchscreen, but if it'll save me a huge headache, it might be worth the $50 extra

I never felt the need for a laptop touchscreen until I got a laptop with a touchscreen and now - if I was shopping for a new laptop - I would pay almost any amount extra to have one. It's not such a big deal if you're sitting at a desk with a mouse, but if you're in situation where you'd be navigating to some part of the screen using your trackpad, just hitting the thing you want on the screen is *so* much easier/ faster/ more curiously enjoyable.
posted by 7 Minutes of Madness at 10:37 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I won't get a laptop without a touchscreen again. When I use my wife's Macbook, I am always annoyed when I touch the screen and nothing happens. It's like her computer is mildly broken.

The only annoyance is when people who don't know it's a touchscreen start pointing at stuff on the screen and inadvertently doing stuff with it.
posted by kindall at 10:50 AM on April 14, 2016


Bloatware can be removed, and easily. Removing a ton of bloatware will be time-conumsing at worst, but it's not a hard process or anything you have to be particularly skilled with computers to do.

I have done bloatware removal first thing after every computer I've ever bought, and am no computer expert, either. Everything I've learned about this and other things I can do (like finding and removing viruses) came from googling things. You don't need to pay a computer expert to do this because you have Google at your disposal. Besides, it has benefits: you'll learn about what's on what your computer, learn how to navigate around where things are located, and learn how to do this next time it comes up.

Here's a rough instruction guide: The easiest place to look is either the programs in your Programs list in the Control Panel, or in the shortcuts under the Start menu. (assuming Windows 10 is like previous versions in this regard) From there, you can uninstall the programs you don't need and delete links and shortcuts you'll never use. A lot of it will be obvious to you, but some you may have to look up online if you're not sure whether you'll use it or whether it's integral. Looking this up online and reading a few forums threads about how to do this will be much more helpful, but that's the gist of it.

Another note: a lot of programs will have high-tech sounding names but will be JUNK. You might think to leave it there just in case because it "sounds important," but that junk (there's a reason they call it bloatware) takes up space and your harddrive and slows down your computer. So look up every program you have online. Oftentimes the first few results will be tech forums asking the same thing or a Windows help page. (Windows help = reliable) Leave no stone unturned.
posted by atinna at 11:21 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Bloatware can be removed, and easily. Removing a ton of bloatware will be time-conumsing at worst, but it's not a hard process or anything you have to be particularly skilled with computers to do...

This comment is helpful, comprehensive, annnnnd has pretty much convinced me that I'd rather spend the extra $50 on a 'Signature' computer to in order to not have to do all that stuff
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:54 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


After reading through all your suggestions I think I'm going with this guy, which doesn't have a touchscreen, but has a better processor than that touchscreen Dell in the same price range with otherwise similar specs. I never would have known that this "Signature Edition" thing was an option without asking this question, so thank you all!
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:51 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here is a concrete example of bloatware: on my HP, if I double click on a media file, the computer tries to play it in a suite of not-very-good software rather than Windows Media Player (which is not wonderful, but it's better).
posted by SemiSalt at 5:58 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


For those who swear by touchscreens, doesn't it get dirty? I can't stand people touching my monitor and leaving greasy fingerprints. It's the only thing keeping me from buying one. How do you solve for it?
posted by valeries at 7:59 AM on April 18, 2016


It came! I'm delighted! I forgot what a pain in the ass it is to set up a new computer BUT STILL, I think I will be very happy with this thing. Thanks again, all.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:07 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


valeries: they have the same kind of oil-repelling ("oleophobic") coating they use on phones. it helps a lot.
posted by kindall at 1:29 PM on April 19, 2016


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