If nothing else, Sony is a master of blunders.
A couple of years ago they infected peoples’ computers with a semi-malicious virus distributed on music CDs.
And just last year the company stick-handled its exploding battery crisis like a Timbit.
Now the corporate Godzilla is faltering in its face-off with the software equivalent of Mothra: crapware.
Most Windows-based computers ship with a plethora of software you don’t need — crapware, also know as bloatware and trialware — that serves to do little more than make your brand new computer slow, unstable, and annoying.
Last week Sony offered to ship crapware-free Vaio computers — for fifty bucks. The blogosphere instantly exploded.
Crapware offers limited or no functionality whatsoever. It’s placed there, essentially, as advertising for a product or service.
Sony, by the admission of one of its own Vice Presidents, “is the poster child for negative experiences people had [with crapware].”
The company has gone so far as to design a software suite that leads new Vaio owners to an evil online lair of crapware even as it hawks crippled media content like games and music.
Sony once filled over 3 GB of every hard drive with a locked copy of Spider-Man 3. New computer owners were forced to pay $10 if they actually wanted to watch it.
It’s not just Sony that’s guilty of crapware distribution, though. Every big PC maker does it.
So what’s to stop people from just deleting this stuff?
By all accounts, removing crapware is no easy process.
Walt Mossberg, a preeminent technology user and writer for the Wall Street Journal describes the process as spending “hours as a digital maintenance man wading through annoying and confusing chores.”
Another tech writer said that his new HP notebook came “with so much crapware [I needed] several hours to clean this thing up.”
And PC World reports that, “it can take a savvy user hours to remove unwanted programs, and those who are less sophisticated may never be able to reclaim the wasted memory.”
And it’s that last point that most prescient: most of us will be stuck with crapware on our Windows PCs forever. And that represents a significant drain on your machine’s resources which seriously affects its performance.
It’s as though your new car came with a trunk full of cement blocks that couldn’t be removed and bald tires you couldn’t replace.
One owner of a new notebook reported that he was accused by Toshiba tech support of “breaking my computer by attempting to uninstall bloatware.”
Toshiba couldn’t fix his problem and ended up just shipping him a new hard drive full of bloatware.
But why do PC makers force us to suffer so?
Money, of course.
Last year Michael Dell explained that his company nets about $60 per machine from crapware. However, he also explained that this barely covers the cost of providing tech support for it.
As a result, Dell began offering some of their PCs almost free of crapware.
So last week, when Sony introduced their $50 “Fresh Start” program, it appeared that they were shifting the easy-money revenue stream onto consumers’ shoulders.
They didn’t want to deal with the headache of providing tech support for crapware, but they still wanted that cash.
And then the internet happened to them. Within days, the unending din from bloggers around the world forced Sony to recant their bloatware tax.
The company now permits us to order their highest-end line of notebooks sans-crap for free. They promise to expand that to their full line by year end.
However, whatever this one company says they might start doing someday, most of us have crapware-hobbled PCs right now.
Our machines run slower and crash more as a result.
But hope is not lost.
Microsoft offers a free tool calls Autoruns, which can be downloaded from their web site. Running this on your PC will help clear up the junk that automatically loads when you turn on your computer.
Another free piece of software, CCleaner, will remove the gunk that’s clogging up your hard drive and optimize your machine’s performance.
Both tools modify the state of your PC, so be sure your computer is backed up before you use them.
The most practical solution, of course, is to avoid crapware altogether.
And there’s really only one way to do that, other than building your own PC from scratch: buy a Mac.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, March 28, 2008.