The Electric Wand

Thoughts of a technology enthusiast.

Dell's "anti-crapware" initiative doesn't go far enough

Dell's "anti-crapware" initiative doesn't go far enough

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My wife's small business has recently had a requirement to upgrade a couple of PCs, after 5 or 6 years. Since I am ultimately responsible for all their IT (and I am not proud of what they have - I cut all sorts of corners to make my life easy, but they don't know how lean it is), I've always bought Dell kit for them since it's been good quality, relatively cheap, it's quick and easy.

Looking around on their site, I figured the new Dell Vostro desktop range might be worth a look - and since the machines were shipped with "Just the Software you need - no Trialware installed" then it would save me time in rebuilding the systems when they arrived (as I'd generally do).

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There's a great discussion over on Steve Clayton's blog, about tweaking Vista, and on Computerworld on how to take the garbage off your new system. I'd hoped to avoid any of this by just going with a well-tested, modern, high-volume desktop, so that everything just works with software that's been available for the best part of a year, on Vista Business (no downgrade to Windows XP for us - even if Dell is now offering it as a "feature").

OOBE

The Out-Of-Box-Experience was typical of a decent PC - lots of boxes, lots of packaging, printed manuals in about a dozen languages (which all go straight in the bin). It's pretty straightforward plugging everything together now, and in no time we're up and running.

I bet if this was a new Mac, it would have a lot less spurious cables and bits of paper.

No Trial-ware but plenty of crap-ware

ZDnet has talked about the problems of "crapware" (including relative to Dell) cluttering up new PCs, slowing things down, frustrating end users and annoying power users by giving them hours of work to clean things up.

On starting up the PC, we had Google Desktop indexing everrything, even though Vista was doing that already. We had a Dell/Google Browser Helper Object just waiting to redirect every bad URL or search, to a site that showed Dell adverts (called Dell's Browser Address Redirector). Welcome to the world of "choice" - I'm almost surprised they didn't install Firefox, Opera and Safari, just in case the end user felt like installing a different browser without bothering to download it. Pity the users who don't want all this guff and have to take it off.

There are 3 separate ISP sign-up applications which are irrelevant to this small business, as well as a bunch of other bits & pieces which come from neither Dell nor Microsoft. Each of them has a program group in the start menu, and an entry in Control Panel's Remove Programs section.

There are obviously some useful 3rd party addons (though I was going to rip out the - trial version - McAfee anti-virus, spyware and firewall, and replace with OneCare), such as DVD decoder, or CD burner. But even they don't always work smoothly - there's some Roxio software which as well as writing CD/DVDs, also seems to monitor folders on disk for some sharing function.

These machines are sold for small business use - why would I want to have 3rd party software cluttering up the system tray and occupying memory & CPU, monitoring folders for sharing media, on the LAN? In looking to switch off the monitoring, I right-clicked on the system tray icon and (not seeing any other option), choose an option to do with Managing the folder sharing, on the basis that it might give me an option of switching it off.

Boom. Visual C++ 6.0 runtime error. Every time. On both machines.

I don't want to beat up on Dell specifically, but this is an example of a poor customer experience that is 100% down to the PC OEM to fix. Don't install all this software on a PC unless it's essential - or at least make it easy for users to revert to some kind of vanilla OS.

How many customers would assume this C++ runtime error was a Windows problem? Or would blame a slow machine on spurious Vista performance issues, when it's every bit as likely to be caused by unnecessary and unwanted software running on the background, because the ISV has paid the OEM to include it on new machine builds..?

Maybe Microsoft should get into building PC hardware, and at least will have soup-to-nuts control over the hardware and software experience.

Comments
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  • ms is screwed here,  this is a strong point (the only one that I know of) for the mac..  ms is damned if they do damned if they don't.  MS should sell branded pc's that are manufactured by oems like dell,hp etc..

    I custom build all my systems but have many many family friends/businesses that would pay a premium for a MS branded pc.  

  • :( :(

    that's such bad news. I was hoping for literally a clean PC...what does clean mean in this world????

  • Tony - maybe your point is a bit strong, but I think you're otherwise right - the image of the Mac is so strong that whatever MS does, it never seems to compare favourably. I too custom build home PCs, but for the vast, vast majority of people, that's an unattractive prospect.

    Why do so many people buy Toyotas? Because they work, they're reliable and they meet the people's needs, even if the cars are a bit dull and purposeful. People buy them but don't get passionate about them, in the same way that other people get excited about sports cars that break down all the time, but look and sound good.

  • Know what you mean, Steve. Clean means, throwing away the supplied OS image and installing from a non-OEM CD, it seems :(

    Or spending an hour or two removing all the guff from the supplied machine, defragging the HD and getting back to something a bit more bare ...

    or, of course, building your own :)

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