PC buyers aim to cut the 'crapware'

Following the lead of businesses, some consumers are wiping their systems clean and starting over, but it's not always easy.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
When large businesses buy new PCs, they often wipe the hard drives clean and install a fresh copy of Windows, along with the other software they want workers to have.

Some consumers, frustrated with all of the trial software, desktop icons and other stuff that comes loaded on their machines, are doing the same thing.

However, what works for businesses isn't always so easy for individuals. Many computers don't actually come with a clean copy of the operating system. Instead, many ship with a "recovery partition" or a recovery disc that restores the system back to the way it shipped--with all that extra software.

"I'm willing to accept that it comes with junk and I'm willing to clean it up," said Bill Shanner, a self-described "senior-citizen engineer" who has seven laptops and at least a half dozen desktops. "The thing that aggravates me is having to buy a second copy of an operating system. If you pay for something, you ought to get what you pay for."

"The thing that aggravates me is having to buy a second copy of an operating system. If you pay for something, you ought to get what you pay for."
--Bill Shanner, self-described "senior-citizen engineer"

Some PC makers, like Gateway and Dell, say they do offer consumers a disc with just Windows, allowing them to do a clean install of the operating system, should they choose to do so. Others, like Hewlett-Packard and Sony, use a "system restore" option. HP said it does so to help facilitate product support.

"HP's support experience relies on many of the diagnostics and tools that are specific to the software image provided," a company representative said in an e-mail. "In order to provide this support experience, the system is restored to factory specifications."

Apple also uses a system restore option on Macs, though its machines ship with only two trial programs, iWork and Microsoft Office, along with the full versions of iLife and a handful of other third-party titles.

Shanner said he favors some sort of consumer's bill of rights that would ensure those who buy a PC with Windows can do what they want with it.

Offering a disc with just the operating system seems like a way for PC makers to improve customer satisfaction, said IDC analyst Richard Shim.

"You pay for it, you may as well get it," Shim said. Doing so, Shim said, would also allow companies to keep preinstalling software while giving customers who want to remove the software an easier option.

Lenovo uses recovery partitions, but on more recent models it has started offering a "custom restore" option that enables people to choose which of the software programs to reinstall.

"This will allow users to selectively restore things like our ThinkVantage Technologies or other preloaded software," a Lenovo representative said in a statement.

Some analysts have said that they also expect PC makers to begin experimenting with offering clean PCs--ones without any added trial software or other preinstalled programs. Customers may have to pay extra, though, to offset the fact that PC makers make money from many of the programs they add to a new PC's hard drive.

Current Analysis research director Samir Bhavnani said he thought $25 would be a reasonable price that would make the computer maker whole and be affordable enough to appeal to consumers.

One reason that a "clean PC" is a better alternative than wiping the hard drive is that PC makers also equip their machines with the needed drivers for their specific hardware. Although many PC makers do have them for download on their Web site, finding all of the needed bits can be quite a challenge.