Bloatware: What it is and how to get rid of it

Is your new Windows system laden with unnecessary -- or even harmful -- software? Here's a rundown of what to look for and how (or if) you can uninstall it.

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Should I Remove It?

Like PC Decrapifier, the free program Should I Remove It? uses crowdsourcing to determine which software should be removed and which shouldn't. For each program it finds, it shows not only the percentage of other users who removed it, but also the rating they gave to the program itself, which is more helpful than the simpler data that The PC Decrapifier offers.

Should I Remove It? displays all the programs it finds on your PC and color-codes them according to the removal rates -- red for most removed, orange for moderate removal rates, green for low. On my old system, it found no reds, and only two orange: Dell System Customization Wizard and Dell Documentation Launcher. It rated the Google Updater and a Nook PC app as green. It didn't find or list any startup programs such as ehTray.exe and NvCplDaemon.

should i remove it

Should I Remove It? recommends what to get rid of and what to keep -- in this case, on a Dell PC.

What's truly exceptional about Should I Remove It, though, is not the program itself, but the accompanying website, which has a tremendous amount of detail about bloatware. Use it as your go-to source. The site has capsule descriptions of each piece of software to help you decide whether you think that application belongs on your system. Unfortunately, though, unlike The PC Decrapifier, Should I Remove It? doesn't report on startup items.

Slim Computer

The free Slim Computer, like The PC Decrapifier and Should I Remove It?, uses crowdsourcing to determine which software on your PC is bloatware, and then lets you decide which to remove and which to leave. Unlike the other two, however, it also looks at browser extensions, plugins, ActiveX objects and other add-ins that might be considered bloat.

Before you run a scan, it's a good idea to go to Settings --> Advanced and change the Scanner Threshhold mode from Default to Aggressive. Default mode is designed for computer novices who might not be able to understand which software to remove and which to keep -- it's safer, but doesn't find all potential problematic programs. Aggressive finds more and is your best bet.

slim computer

Sim Coputer offers recommendations on which software to remove from a Dell PC.

To start the process, click Scan, and after a few minutes, items that you might want to remove will appear in four categories: Applications, Browsers, Startup Items and Shortcuts. The list in each category includes the name of each program, the publisher (if available) and recommendations as to whether to remove it based on what other Slim Computer users have done.

Where Slim Computer shines is in the information it provides about each item. Click a More Info link and you'll get a description of the software and what it does, the number of people who have recommended removing or keeping it, and individual comments that people have made about it. It's a great way to help you decide whether to keep the software or remove it.

For information about browser extensions, plugins, ActiveX and other browser additions you might want to remove, you click Browsers in the left-hand column and then click the icon for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera or Safari. You'll then see a list of the add-ins for each browser, along with ratings and the More Info button. And near the top of the screen you'll see the default search engine for the browser you're currently looking at -- just in case something changed your default search engine without your say-so.

AdwCleaner

Slim Computer should remove all toolbars and similar browser bloatware, but if you want to make sure it's all gone, give the free AdwCleaner a try. Run it, click Scan, and after it finishes its work, click the listings it generates for each of your browsers to see what kinds of toolbars and bloatware it found. It also looks through your Registry, scheduled tasks and services.

adwcleaner

AdwCleaner, after scanning a newly-bought Lenovo PC.

Uncheck the boxes next to the items you don't want cleaned, then tell the software to clean out everything else. Before doing that, make sure to close all your programs, because otherwise AdwCleaner will do it for you and you might lose data. It will also restart after it does its cleaning, and create a text file that contains a summary of everything it found, and everything you had it clean.

Other tools

It's also not a bad idea to install at least one anti-adware tool, which will look for all kinds of adware, not just ones preloaded on PCs.

Examples include Ultra Adware Killer, which is efficient -- but be sure that you carefully check what it identifies as adware before telling it to remove it. For example, it considers the AVG Security Toolbar as adware, which you may or may not want to get rid of.

Two freeware applications that handle both malware and spyware are Spybot and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.

Buy bloatware-free PCs

The best thing, of course, is to buy a clean Windows computer. That's easier said than done -- you can't just walk into a Best Buy or order a PC online and expect it to be bloatware-free.

However, there are places to turn for bloatware-free PCs. For example, Microsoft has its previously mentioned Signature Edition PCs. However, keep in mind that you may end up paying more -- for example, as I write this, a Samsung ATIV Book 9 laptop with 256GB of storage costs $1,199 as a Signature Edition on the Microsoft site, but sells for $1,100 online from Newegg.

Lenovo has pledged that its Windows 10-loaded PCs will be free from bloatware.

You can also buy machines from high-end PC makers that either don't include bloatware on their PCs, or will leave it off at your request -- for details, see Michael Horowitz's excellent rundown. But be prepared to open your wallet wide.

Maingear sells bloatware-free PCs, but again, the machines don't come cheap -- for example, its least expensive desktop was priced (at the time of this writing) at $799 and its specs won't knock your socks off (8GB RAM; 500 GB hard drive; Intel Pentium Anniversary Edition G3258 processor).

Falcon Northwest also sells bloatware-free machines and they also charge top dollar: $1,700 and up for desktops.

Velocity Micro will ship bloatware-free PCs if you configure them that way, and they have a wider range of prices, including desktops in the $700 range.

And Puget Custom Computers told Horowitz that their PCs are bloatware-free. They sell at the higher end of the spectrum, with typical desktop prices starting at $1,200.

How big vendors stack up

What to do if you're not willing to pay extra for a bloatware-free PC? You should at least know ahead of time before buying from a traditional PC maker what you'll get.

The website Should I Remove It? has an excellent section devoted to "Manufacturer's Bloat" on systems for Toshiba, Sony (which has since moved out of the PC and laptop business), Lenovo, Dell, HP, Asus and Acer. It gives capsule descriptions of the type of software typically preinstalled on each vendor's machines, and lists bloatware installed on specific models. As of August 2015, the site rated Toshiba PCs in general as having the most bloatware, followed by Sony, Lenovo, Dell, HP, Asus and Acer.

Even better, the website lists descriptions of each piece of bloatware each vendor installs, along with what percentage of its users remove that software.

The bottom line

If Lenovo truly does eliminate bloatware on its PCs as the company promises, it may well be that other vendors will eventually follow suit.

Until then, though, most of us who use Windows PCs will have to live with bloatware as an accepted industry practice. So go back through the advice in this article to make sure your new PC is as free of bloatware as possible and then use the right tools to get rid of whatever rode in that you don't want.

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