Microsoft anti-bloatware service to apply to Windows 8 PCs, too

$99 'Signature Upgrade,' done in company's retail stores, scrubs junk from machines

A Microsoft in-store program that scrubs "bloatware" from Windows PCs will also be offered when Windows 8 machines reach the market later this year, a company representative said Wednesday.

The service, which is offered only in Microsoft's small chain of retail stores -- it now has 21 operating or in the works -- is dubbed "Signature Upgrade," and costs $99.

"We take off all the bloatware on the PC," said a Microsoft store employee Wednesday when asked about the service.

On Microsoft's website, the company described the Signature Upgrade this way: "We'll install everything you need and remove the things you don't, for a faster, more efficient, and secure PC experience."

A Signature Upgrade requires the Windows PC to be left at the store for 24 to 48 hours.

Signature Upgrade is an offshoot of the Signature line of Windows PCs that Microsoft sells in its retail outlets and online. Those hand-picked notebooks and desktops are optimized for performance, says the Redmond, Wash. company, with "no trialware and sample software that typically bogs down new PCs."

The Signature systems are, however, pre-loaded with Microsoft's own Security Essentials antivirus software, and several other programs from the now-defunct Windows Live brand.

Bloatware is another term for trialware; both refer to PC makers' habit of loading crippled versions of commercial software on the hard drive in the hope that some will upgrade to for-a-fee editions. Computer makers are paid by trialware creators and receive a portion of the revenue from any user upgrades.

The retail stores, as well as Microsoft's online storefront, sell dozens of different PCs that have been stripped of bloatware, including models from Acer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba. All are, of course, equipped with Windows 7.

But the Signature deals -- whether new PCs or the upgrade service for already-owned machines -- will continue when Microsoft and OEMs ship Windows 8, the store representative said.

Windows 8 won't solve the bloatware problem -- Microsoft cannot control what OEMs put on their machines -- but the Metro interface, which relies on the Windows Store for all app distribution, might curb some of the more aggressive practices.

Last fall, Microsoft told hardware makers that it would limit automatic Metro app installations to just one per external device.

The company has also added new tools to Windows 8, called Reset and Refresh, that will let users restore their PCs to an out-of-the-box state. Microsoft did not connect the new tools to bloatware removal when it announced them last January, but stressed the simplicity of a chore that previously took multiple steps and required manual reinstallation of the OS.

Microsoft has not announced a launch date for Windows 8, nor has it said when systems powered by the revamped operating system will reach retail, but most experts have pegged both events to the fourth quarter.

Windows 8 Release Candidate, a more polished version than the Consumer Preview of late February, is slated to debut the first week of June.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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