On shovelware: A rant

HP and many other PC manufacturers preload largely useless apps on the systems they sell.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops | Desktops | All-in-one PCs | Streaming devices | Streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
3 min read

HP is far from the only shovelware offender, but it's certainly among the worst. Buy a PC from any large manufacturer, and you'll likely find the desktop littered with icons for free software trials. Software companies pay hardware manufacturers to get their apps (or links to their apps) preloaded on systems so that their products sit in front of a captive audience as it powers up a new PC for the first time. This arrangement helps the software companies acquire more paying customers, and it helps the hardware manufacturers' bottom line, particularly with low-end systems where margins are supermodel thin. But does it help you, the consumer?

How many desktop icons are too many on a new PC? We'd argue 17 is too many. CNET Networks

In addition to better performance, isn't part of the allure of a new PC a sparkling clean hard drive? System maintenance shouldn't be the first task you perform on a PC right out of the box. Take the HP's Pavilion Media Center m8120n we just reviewed as an example. When we powered on this otherwise excellent quad-core PC for the first time, we were greeted with 17 desktop icons. We'd deem more than half--9 of the 17--as shovelware:

1. A free 60 days of Microsoft Office may entice you to upgrade from Works 8, which comes bundled on the system. We'll give this one a pass since the m8120n is a retail system that doesn't give you the option to customize the software bundle.

2. The 60-day trial subscription to Norton Internet Security also provides some value because it provides protection for your new system right from the start. Is it too much to ask for a full year of coverage built into the price of a PC? At the very least, wouldn't that cut down on the calls to HP's customer support line?

3. The desktop shortcut to eBay is useless clutter. We're quite certain most PC users can type those four little letters into their browser when they feel the need to hawk their wares. Alternatively, you can bookmark the site should you find yourself a frequent visitor to the auction site.

4. Also useless is the Try AOL Today icon. Just send us a CD in the mail.

5. We like Vonage, but we don't like Vonage desktop icons. All this shortcut does is take you to Vonage's site. We can do that on our own, thanks.

6. The icon for HP's photo service, Snapfish, promises 25 free prints. That sounds relatively interesting until you realize that Snapfish offers 20 free prints to any first-time visitor to its site.

7. The shortcut to Rhapsody is of dubious value. If we wanted to sign up for a music subscription, we'd happily hunt on the Internet for the service that best aligns with our musical tastes, which may or may not end up being Rhapsody.

8. The MSN icon offers a three free months of Microsoft's dial-up service. This icon is not needed when you see that the Easy Internet Services and the High-Speed Services desktop icons provide links to a variety of dial-up and broadband offers from EarthLink, NetZero, Juno, and, yes, MSN.

9. Lastly, the My HP Games shortcut may provide some entertainment value if you need a break, but we'd rather have this listed among the Accessories. We don't feel an overwhelming need for one-click access to WildTangent's collection of online games.

In addition to the two ISP icons that may help you get online, we're left with six icons that merit a spot on the desktop: the Recycle Bin, HP TotalCare Advisor, Help and Support, RealPlayer, Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Center.

Instead of shoveling these apps and offers down my throat, I'd prefer HP round up all the offers from its various partners on one page on its Web site. Keep the software on your servers instead of my new hard drive. I'll even look the other way should HP include one desktop icon to such a Web page. Fair?

Which vendors do you find particularly aggressive with their preloaded apps? With the last PC you bought, did you make use of any of the trial offers, or did you just remove icons and uninstall software? Vent your shovelware frustrations here.