The 10 most annoying tactics of technology companies

The everyday practices of hardware, software, and Web firms can drive their customers bonkers. Here's how to fight back.

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Readers speak: New-PC junk declared most annoying annoyance

What tech company practices annoy you the most? In conjunction with our feature "The 10 Most Annoying Habits of Tech Companies," we invited PCWorld.com visitors to rate a list of candidates on a 5-point scale ranging from not at all annoying to extremely annoying. The winner by far: marketing-oriented software and pitches, aka crapware, on new PCs, which a hefty 63 percent of the 1600-plus readers who responded rated as extremely annoying.

"I reinstall the OS on every new PC I buy just to get rid of the junk," wrote one respondent. "Amazingly, the computer usually boots and runs a lot faster than it did out of the box."

"We bought new computers this past year and had them built rather than deal with the junk that comes preinstalled on HPs, etc.," wrote another.

Several people complained about specific preinstalled applications.

"The Google Toolbar is popping up everywhere. Very annoying," said one of several comments about the ubiquitous software.

"What really makes my blood boil is products that come along without giving you an option, and they are on 'free trial,'" wrote another survey participant, who was particularly incensed about the Norton AntiVirus software that came on his new laptop. "Did I mention that if I decide to keep Norton, the price of purchase is higher than that of the retail package (at least here in Europe)? So, the free trial wasn't so free after all."

We weren't all that surprised by the outrage over preinstalled software with a marketing twist--this has been a hot-button issue for our readers for some time now. Back in 2006, we wrote about how junkware on a Dell notebook prompted one irritated engineer to write software to clean it up. Dell was no longer the worst offender when we addressed the problem more comprehensively in "Junkbusters" last year, but the problem remains. The cleanup software created in response to Dell's junk has morphed into a program called PC Decrapifier, which can work on any system.

The runner-up: Sunset policies

In our survey 53 percent of readers rated sunset policies--the withdrawal of functionality and/or support of old versions of software, presumably to get customers to upgrade--as extremely annoying.

Almost as large a group of readers had issues with rebates, spam from companies they had patronized, and canned e-mail replies that don't address their questions. Each problem earned an "extremely annoying" rating from about 45 percent of site visitors who took the survey.

Less-aggravating annoyances (in descending order of "extremely annoying" ratings) were skimpy tech support for Web services; splash-screen ads that appear on a Web site before you even get to the home page; the inability to recover downloaded digital content (most notably songs from iTunes and other music services) that you've lost; "upsell" efforts, or nags to upgrade a product you already have (or to spend money on additional products); and preferential treatment for business customers over home customers.

One interesting result: While the inability to recover lost digital content received an "extremely annoying" rating from 28 percent of those surveyed, even more people (30 percent) reported "don't know/not applicable" for that issue. This suggests several possibilities: people are being careful to make backups of anything they download; not many people lose downloaded content; or a significant number of people don't avail themselves of download services for software and content.

We also gave readers the opportunity to complain about annoyances that we hadn't listed, and we got an earful. Here are a few of the gripes:

The results of our survey should give overenthusiastic marketers pause. Most of the top annoyances--junkware, rebates, spam, over-the-top Web site ads, nagging--can turn valuable customers into very unhappy campers.

--Yardena Arar

This story, "The 10 most annoying tactics of technology companies" was originally published by PCWorld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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