Just recently a small storm of outrage erupted when a security expert alleged that Samsung had been installing secret spyware on its laptops to monitor user activity. The expert had scanned for and found what his anti-virus software (erroneously, it should be clearly and distinctly noted) identified as a keylogging application called StarLogger. In fact, it turned out to be language files for the Slovenian language that were falsely identified as the nasty spyware instead. The initial report was updated, and the anti-virus firm involved has apologised (which you can read here: http://sunbeltblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/samsung-laptops-do-not-have-keylogger.html).
OK, so Samsung was entirely innocent in this case, but the strategy that it (and most other consumer computer vendors) employ to pre-install software does still have some downsides and annoyances. When you buy a new laptop or desktop PC, it’s often got lots of additional software pre-installed. Most folks would expect an operating system (whether you’re in the Mac or PC camps, or even in certain circumstances Linux), but what else you get beyond that varies a lot from vendor to vendor and even by model. That’s partly determined by the capabilities of the hardware you buy. There’d be little point in putting handwriting recognition software into a laptop that didn’t have a screen capable of pen input, for example, or webcam software onto a machine that didn’t have a webcam.
It’s also determined by sponsorship, deals with differing companies, and whether the application in question is a “full” version or some kind of “lite” or time-limited version. For software that directly accesses the hardware, such as CD/DVD burning, it’s usual to expect you’ll get fully functional software, but the same isn’t true of most office suites or anti-virus packages. When you’re shopping for a new system, take careful note of terms such as “Starter Edition” “Lite” or “Trial”. You may think you’re getting a bargain having a laptop that comes with Microsoft Office, but not if it’s a version that’ll work for only sixty days. Likewise, the AntiVirus screen that pops up the moment you start up the machine for the first time — or even as the system is setting itself up in some cases — will expire quite quickly, requiring additional payment to keep your protection up and running. Most of those applications will nag you incessantly about updating, which can be annoying and distracting, especially if they pop up over work you’re trying to do. Applications that you never use may install themselves to run each time the system starts up, eating up small but significant portions of your system resources as they do so. If they’re applications you use constantly, that’s quite handy as they’ll start up more quickly, but if not, you’re just wasting processing cycles. Certainly don’t make the mistake of letting your AV expire — that way lies actual malware and spyware — but equally it’s worth realising that you can always uninstall all the extra applications and use your own, depending on your tastes, needs and budgets.
What do you think? Do you use all or any of the preinstalled applications on your PC, or uninstall all of them and start with a fresh PC every single time?