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Time to demand bloatware-free computers
July 8, 2018, 3:42 pm

You buy a $2,000 laptop today and chances are that when you open it, the device will be crammed with software that we will not use and did not ask for. Computer vendors are often at the mercy of Operating System (OS) sellers, whether it is Microsoft, Apple or Google, who launch their programs with the unsolicited bloatware. Companies, it appears are out to beat you into submission through mental attrition.

Open the Start menu in Microsoft’s latest Windows 10 and you are greeted with animated and blinking tiles or Cortana giving you a guided tour, or a copy of Candy Crush Saga enticing you from a tile. Messages urging you to auto backup to OneDrive keeps pummeling you every time you access files in Windows.

But it is not just Microsoft, people who are locked into an Apple ecosystem must learn to live with Apple apps for Apple products, irrespective of whether they own such a product or not. If you use Apple’s free 5GB of iCloud storage you will soon start getting daily reminders that you could pay to get more storage. And Google’s Photos app is so anxious to grab any images that you generate with your phone that it will keep asking if you want to automatically back up new folders you create, such as new screenshots or downloaded photos. Many other mobile phone manufacturers often mount their skin to the basic Android experience and in the process, you end up with two versions of several apps.

Bloatware is any piece of software within an operating system that receives a disproportionate amount of prominence or system resources relative to its functionality. We can have debates about whether pushy notifications about ancillary services from the OS maker necessarily constitute bloat, but there is little room for disagreement when it comes to third-party additions that serve corporate interests before those of the user.

But why do we continue to suffer from this bloatware. One reason could be that no vendor is offering us a better option and we just accept the unhappy status quo and get on with our lives. Rather than spend an hour or so disabling, uninstalling and unpinning superfluous bloatware on their devices, many consumers have grown to accept the situation. Perhaps it is time to demand that OS vendors stop this bloatware attack on consumers.

But there are vendors who provide devices that run counter to this trend. Buy a Google Pixelbook or several Chromebook devices from traditional PC makers and you will most likely find a version of Android or Chrome OS that is far worthier of our trust than the typical Android OEM variation.

Trust is an especially important theme in consumer tech this year. Revelations about Facebook’s negligence with user data, Android OEMs outright lying to their users about software updates, and the recent bizarre example of Samsung phones spontaneously texting photos to random contacts have raised the requirement for trustworthiness as well as high specs from a device maker. Few things erode that trust quite as quickly as a user interface designed to bait you into clicking on some ad that are useless to you.

Microsoft and others have begun to curtail the most egregious forms of bloat, but the battle is far from won. A laptop or a mobile is a personal device and should be all about you, the user; anything that detracts should be spurned and sneered at until its maker is compelled to do better.

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