If Consumers Will Pay $50 To Remove It, What's It Doing There In The First Place?

from the penny-wise-pound-foolish dept

That didn't take long. On Friday morning, PC World reported that that it would offer a "Fresh Start" option on certain of its laptops: for an extra $50, Sony would remove all the annoying "trial software" that apparently infests a lot of PC laptops these days (as a smug Mac user, I can't say I've experienced this firsthand). Not surprisingly, the announcement generated a firestorm of controversy, and within hours, Sony's PR reps rushed out to reassure people that it was all a big misunderstanding. Sony won't charge for "Fresh Start" after all, and will instead offer it as a free option. But only on certain laptops and only for customers who upgrade to the business version of Vista.

The fact that it thought of offering such a service at all -- for a fee or otherwise -- suggests that Sony has a rather short-sighted attitude toward its business. PC manufacturers reportedly get as much as $60 per PC in kickbacks from software vendors to put trial software on their customers' computers. Apparently, in the low-margin PC business, that's too much cash to pass up. But putting bloatware on PCs is a bad strategy for precisely the same reason that filling your website with intrusive ads is a bad strategy. It might make more money in the short run, but it ruins your brand and reduces the chances you'll get repeat customers. The reason that customers choose a name-brand PC over a dirt-cheap white-label one is that they want to minimize hassles. A good name-brand manufacturer carefully chooses components that will ensure a hassle-free experience. It would be stupid to pick a flaky graphics card because it's five bucks cheaper: the angry customers would cost a lot more than five bucks in the long run. By the same token, forcing customers to take software they don't want is going to cost a lot more in customer satisfaction than it's going to gain in revenue. Manufacturers should only bundle third-party software that enhances (or at least doesn't diminish) the value of the product to the end user. (Dell's contract with Google is a good example of how to do this right.) In the long run, firms that zealously protect the quality of their user experience will do better than those that allow the customer experience to be undermined in order to make a quick buck.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    dUc0N, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 3:49am

    Bloatware Proliferation

    I may be off a bit, but I feel it's also important to note the likelihood that the bloatware packaging started small and then snowballed. It most likely (IMHO) started with AOL saying "hey, we'll give you $0.50 per CD that you bundle in with your computers," something that made sense on a large scale. This probably evolved into "$1 to let us sneak a preinstalled trial version onto the desktop," and it didn't take long for other companies to jump on the bandwagon.

    The point I'm trying to make is that it may not have been a big issue (or may have even been a non-issue) at first, but lately it seems to have gotten much worse. It's also worth pointing out that there is a sector of consumers that doesn't mind, as long as these ad revenues are passed on in the form of savings. I've seen a few people say they wouldn't mind an ad splash every time they booted their PC if it paid for their video card, for example. This is a relatively small number of people, though.

     

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  2.  
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    mat552, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 4:49am

    Re: Bloatware Proliferation

    I like that idea. I would gladly add a bit of time to my boot time if it made a better computer cheaper for me.

     

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  3.  
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    Lucretious, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 4:50am

    I agree that Sony is being reprehensible over this but his begs the question: how dumb are these people that they need to have applications uninstalled for them in the first place? Once they fill their hard drives do they then buy a new PC rather than uninstall old programs they no longer use to make room?

     

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  4.  
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    blue, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 5:32am

    The first thing I do on a new computer is wipe the trial software and bloat. I've never had a computer that had an obscene amount of it, so getting rid of it isn't that big of a deal. I would rather spend a half hour cleaning out the bloat in exchange for the savings. Although it would be interesting to see exactly how much those savings are and how much the manufacturer is paid.

     

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  5.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Mar 24th, 2008 @ 5:45am

    Only the Computer Itslef

    Even though I was not in the market for a new computer, when I was in Best Buy I asked if I could buy a computer without the operating system so that I would be able to install Linux. The salesperson said that was not possible. We should not be forced to pay for unwanted components.

    The computer store where I have bought my computers does offer the option of buying a computer with a choice of operating systems, including the no-operating system choice with the appropriate discount.

    On a slightly different bloatware topic; last night my firewall reported that an unknown iTunes program was attempting to access the internet. While this program was innocuous it does point to the continued practice for unknown programs to be silently loaded on your computer and to operate without your knowledge.

    Considering how many of these companies want to protect their so-called "intellectual property", if they give this stuff away (install it on your computer without your permission), it should be considered in the public domain. They have no right to pass a usage liability on you if they give you the program without your permission. Its a "gift".

     

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  6.  
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    Dan J., Mar 24th, 2008 @ 6:20am

    Bad business?

    Apparently, in the low-margin PC business, that's too much cash to pass up. But putting bloatware on PCs is a bad strategy for precisely the same reason that filling your website with intrusive ads is a bad strategy. It might make more money in the short run, but it ruins your brand and reduces the chances you'll get repeat customers.

    This is true if, and only if, there are lots of repeat buyers and it's possible to buy a computer somewhere that doesn't have crapware installed. High volume buyers are mostly businesses, and business models often don't have crapware installed on them. The average home user buys a new computer once every few years or so. The bitter taste of dealing with the crapware is fogotten by the time they buy their next computer. Additionally, they tend to be extremely price sensitive. And all of the major dealers of which I'm aware load up their low price, home systems with crapware.

     

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  7.  
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    OKVol, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 6:25am

    I'm reminded of an AC/DC song...

    Look up Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, track 3.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 6:32am

    Re: Only the Computer Itslef

    Steve brings up an interesting point:
    "Considering how many of these companies want to protect their so-called "intellectual property", if they give this stuff away (install it on your computer without your permission), it should be considered in the public domain."

    In addition, if they install it without your consent is the EULA binding?

     

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  9.  
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    Steak, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 7:22am

    "(as a smug Mac user, I can't say I've experienced this firsthand)"

    No pesky trial software on a mac? You seem to be forgetting about this demon-trial that comes preinstalled on it called "Microsoft Office". Don't forget about the crippled version of Quicktime, which encourages you to buy the full version to use "Advanced" features like full-screen video.

    Bah, mac users being immuned to trial software. I don't buy it for a second.

     

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  10.  
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    PaulShen, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 9:32am

    Benefit with No Downside

    The reason hardware companies have been allowed to get away with this for so many years is they have the advantage of blaming the OS manufactuer. While this software may drive up complaints to Sony's support line, they ultimatly fall back on blaming the performance/instability problems on Windows. Because of the complex ecosystem between hardware and OS vendor Sony does not take the entire brunt of the blame but is able to shift the blame to Microsoft. The average computer user blames the OS for software problems, seldom do they blame the hardware manufacture unless there is smoke or a clear hardware problem.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 10:21am

    Re: Re: Bloatware Proliferation

    I like that idea. I would gladly add a bit of time to my boot time if it made a better computer cheaper for me.

    I agree. I like adware too because it makes computers and software cheaper and makes me aware of great offers for some really good products. And trialware gives me a great opportunity to try out quality programs that I wouldn't be able to otherwise. How can you beat that? In fact, I'm just surprised they don't charge *extra* for all the free stuff they put on computers these days. When I go shopping for a new computer I look for one that has as much free stuff as possible on it. The wonders of marketing!

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 10:24am

    Re: Re: Only the Computer Itslef

    In addition, if they install it without your consent is the EULA binding?

    We're talking about stuff that's already installed on your computer when you buy it. You consented when you bought it.

     

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  13.  
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    Tim Lee, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 11:02am

    Re:

    Yes, Macs often come with a few pieces of trial software, but it tends to be pretty non-intrusive. I've never booted up a new Mac and had it immediately accost me with requests to try out different pieces of third-party software.

     

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  14.  
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    Gunnar, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 11:06am

    If they had just offered the bloated package as a $50 discount and charged a higher base price, they could have avoided the whole PR mess.

    I'd gladly take a $50 discount on my computer for a bunch of software that isn't going to be on the computer after I re-install the OS.

    "Even though I was not in the market for a new computer, when I was in Best Buy I asked if I could buy a computer without the operating system so that I would be able to install Linux. The salesperson said that was not possible. We should not be forced to pay for unwanted components."

    You're not forced to pay for unwanted components. You can pick whatever store you want to buy your computer from.

     

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  15.  
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    bored, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 11:32am

    reply

    That's why I build my own. And if I need a Microsoft OS, I buy the OEM XP-Pro from Newegg.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 11:38am

    "Manufacturers should only bundle third-party software that enhances (or at least doesn't diminish) the value of the product to the end user. (Dell's contract with Google is a good example of how to do this right."

    Huh? Dell most certainly does not do it right. I purchased my very-high-priced XPS gaming system last year, and instead of spending my first evening with it installing and patching WoW, I spent it uninstalling crap.

    Not just crap that takes up hard drive space, but crap that is automatically set top connect to the Internet and update itself and God knows what else. Crap that uses a ton of MY system resources. When I got the computer, I had wireless Internet, and I had so much stuff going on at start-up and with the net that I could barely check my e-mail. It sucked! And I know it was Dell.

    Furthermore, we use Dells at work and when we buy new computers it's the same damned thing. I spent forever uninstalling so we can actually use the business machines (purchased with a business account, by the way) that we paid a mint for. Last time we purchased new computers (and we only purchased three) I spent 8 hours removing everything, including drive time to our other store, and it was all overtime hours because I had to get it done before the stores opened the next day. They paid me more than 50 bucks to take it off. I would love the option to pay a bit extra to make up for that revenue and not have to do it at all.

    Dell would definitely reap some goodwill from me.

     

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  17.  
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    Rose M. Welch, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 11:38am

    Didn't mean to leave a name off...

    ...not really an Anon Coward kind of person...

     

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  18.  
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    simon, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 12:16pm

    well i get payed too

    i work on a little tech firm doing mostly pc cleaning jobs (mostly from viruses, etc) and little sales, but one main source of income lately is cleaning bloat ware from new acquired laptops/desktops of brand name (dell/hp/packard bell) you name-it, and more lots want to "get me free of this Vista crap, put me a healthy XP Pro." so, from my point of view all that they do by this contracts is to give the little guys some work, so thanks :)

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 12:56pm

    Mac users experience this

    (as a smug Mac user, I can't say I've experienced this firsthand)

    Funny, when I bought my iMac last year it came pre-installed with a 30-day demo version of Microsoft Office, a 30-day demo of iWork, and a limited version of come photo-comic thing.

     

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  20.  
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    Isobel, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 12:59pm

    Sony Software

    Anyone who has used Sony (or Sony Ericsson) software will understand why Sony has to force their product on people in this manner then make them pay a ransom to remove it.

     

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  21.  
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    Paul, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 1:06pm

    It is simple math

    PC manufacturer gets money for putting software on the PC and they pass this onto you so the PC is cheaper with the crapware on it. Thus if the computer does not come with crapware then it is more expensive.

    This is similar to how it is cheaper at some manufacturers to buy a PC with Windows installed than the same PC without Windows.

     

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  22.  
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    lavi d (profile), Mar 24th, 2008 @ 1:10pm

    Hey, It's a New Year

    I'm actually surprised it took until March for Sony to come out with this year's abominable fuck-up.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Phil, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 1:25pm

    Re: Bloat

    Last time I crashed hard (lucky it was S/W and not H/W,that crashed), I get rid of the junk after a fresh reload.

    Crashed again and couldn't recover, kept saying wrong machine (?). Stuck a Linux Ubuntu dick in and in a while after loading was back on line.

    When I found that it ran on my old Toshiba 1414-S173, I installed it.
    Cr

     

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  24.  
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    TheSavage, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 1:44pm

    last compaq I got if i had burned them of would have been 9 disks which in my eyes equals 8 disks of bloatware in order to reinstall the os.
    Took it out of its box - stuck a windows pro disk that I had downloaded from opennap in and installed a bare bones os and made the phone call to microsoft to validate.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Tim Lee, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 2:45pm

    Re:

    I didn't say Dell does this right in general, just that their deal with Google (where they bundle useful, non-intrusive Google software in exchange for a kickback) is example of the kind of deal they should be striking. I believe you that they also have other crap on there that they shouldn't have.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 5:08pm

    Re: Re: Only the Computer Itslef

    dont you still accept the EULA before you startup the OS for the first time?

     

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  27.  
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    J, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 6:39pm

    My Mac came with trial version of iLife and Microsoft Office - both of which annoyingly ask you to purchase, frequently.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 8:44pm

    It has been next to impossible to remove VONGO off my laptop - I even called HP and they only helped me remove it from a single user - everytime I create a new user and log in - Poof! There it is - I agree with another poster here, Just buy XP Pro OEM - 20 something processes as opposed to 50+

     

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  29.  
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    smerball, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 10:04pm

    i'll pay one million U.S. dollars to the first salesman that demonstrates a GNU/Linux operating system (preferably mandriva) on a laptop computer that is being offered for sale at best buy.

     

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  30.  
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    Wesha, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 9:17am

    > suggests that Sony has a rather short-sighted attitude toward its business.

    I thought that became crystal clear right after the rootkit fiasco...

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 3:14pm

    Re:

    i'll pay one million U.S. dollars to the first salesman that demonstrates a GNU/Linux operating system (preferably mandriva) on a laptop computer that is being offered for sale at best buy.

    Sure you would. Is that why you're making that offer anonymously?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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