How to zap the crap on a new Windows PC

The first thing to do with any new Windows PC isn't to start using it, but to clean all the junk off it. Here are seven easy steps to a clutter-free PC.

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Is there any way to avoid the clutter? For medium and large businesses, yes. Hardware makers often give bulk buyers more flexible setup options than they do consumers. You may be able to get a bare-bones operating system setup or even select your own preinstalled set of software. Small system makers may also offer bare-bones Windows setups to both consumers and businesses.

However, if you purchase these you should be sure that you are getting a legal Windows license for the system. The system builder should provide a certificate of authenticity at the very least, and preferably an original Windows DVD that you can use to reinstall or repair the operating system. You can verify that your Microsoft software is not pirated by going to the Genuine Microsoft Software site.

Taking Out the Trash


Nearly every name-brand consumer or small-business PC will have the same software mess that I've seen on my Acer. So, the first thing to do with any new PC isn't to start using it, but to clean it up. Step 1: Back up.

Before starting, plan for a way to recover in case you delete important files. If you've literally just taken the system out of the box and haven't yet moved over your own files, you can just restore from the recovery CD or DVD that the manufacturer provides -- assuming that they provided one. Some vendors don't offer a disc but provide a reinstall image on a hidden partition on the drive.

If you've been using the PC for a while, backing up your own documents and data is a necessity. An external USB hard drive is a great option.

Step 2: Run PC Decrapifier.

After the backup, you're ready to start hacking through the clutter. One quick way to remove the junk is to use a utility called PC Decrapifier, which can automatically uninstall programs that it knows to be supplied by many hardware vendors -- even those that don't provide uninstallers. It's free for personal use or $20 for IT personnel who plan to use it on multiple computers.

When you run PC Decrapifier, you'll be presented with a list of items it can delete or change for you. Although it was originally written to clean up the junk installed by Dell on its computers (and still works best with Dell machines), it can be useful on other brands as well. The screenshot below shows what it found on my Acer.

PC Decrapifier at work.
PC Decrapifier at work. ()

Step 3: Uninstall programs manually.

Even after using PC Decrapifier, you will probably find that there are other programs that you would like to eliminate. To uninstall programs manually, go to Control Panel, then to Add or Remove Programs (for XP) or Programs and Features (for Vista). You may need to switch to Classic View to see these options listed.

Just a few of the applications preinstalled on my new Acer.
Just a few of the applications preinstalled on my Acer. ()

All of the vendor's preinstalled programs will be shown here. Keep an eye open for any entry with a name that includes words like "registration," "tour," "offer" or "trial." Also be suspicious of any entry with "toolbar" in its name; these are often browser toolbars that redirect your searches to sites that you haven't chosen. All of these are good candidates for removal.

On the other hand, do not remove entries that are listed as drivers; they are often required so that the associated hardware will work properly.

A few examples of software that can be deleted on my system include Acer Registration, Acer ScreenSaver and Acer Tour. Most of the other Acer software is optional as well, but you might want to keep Acer Arcade Deluxe if any of the games there interest you. I don't plan to use Symantec's Norton security software, so that can be uninstalled. Finally, I prefer the simplicity of Google's home page and don't like toolbars in my browsers, so the Yahoo Toolbar can be uninstalled as well.

To uninstall a program in XP, select it, click the Remove button, and click Yes. On Vista, right click the program and choose Uninstall.

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