Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Shovelware - lots of extra software you didn't ask for - appears on almost every new machine these days. I look at why shovelware exists, and what you might want to do about it.
I know of several people who received new laptops that came loaded with extra software, which none of them ever use. I'm told that trying to uninstall it always leaves some residue behind, and that it might be better to just wipe the disk clean and install only the desired software from CDs. Seems like a huge amount of work to me. What do you think? What do you do?
There's a term for all that extra software: "shovelware" - as in computer manufacturers seem to just shovel in piles and piles of useless software for reasons unknown.
Well, the reasons aren't totally unknown, and in a perverse way you should probably even be thankful that it's there.
The question, of course if what to do with everything that's been shoveled on to your machine.
So why should you perhaps be grateful for shovelware?
It's one of the reasons computers are as inexpensive as they are. Software manufacturers often pay the hardware manufacturers to get their software included on every machine shipped. The result is that the machines are less expensive for you to purchase.
You'll note that most of the shovelware packages are trial versions, or links to have you sign up for services. In other words, most are an attempt to eventually pay for the upgraded versions or services.
And many people do. For some, it is an easy way to discover software that might actually be useful, and perhaps worth the money. And, of course, enough people do sign up that it makes financial sense for the software and hardware manufacturer's to provide this "service".
But what about the rest of us? What about those of us who know what we want, and know that it's not all that shovelware?
Well, as you've pointed out, there are two general approaches: piecemeal uninstalls, and reformat and start over.
I've done both. And I've done nothing.
More often than not, unless there's some reason to remove shovelware, I simply let it sit. I happen to be a fanatic about a clean desktop, so I might take the time to manually delete all the icons from the desktop. If I'm feeling particularly assertive I might also manually delete items from the start menu - again, simply to clean up the clutter from something that I interact with repeatedly.
But none of that actually gets rid of the shovelware, it just gets it out of my face. And in terms of the time involved, it's quick, easy and it's enough.
If I'm running into disk space issues - particularly on the C: drive where most of these applications are stored - then I might dedicate a little time to walking through the list of programs in the Add/Remove Programs list in Control Panel. Yes, there's often some "residue", as you put it, but it's typically quite small in comparison with the amount of stuff that gets removed by the uninstall.
The only real risk here is uninstalling something that you didn't know you were using - so I'm always a little cautious about this, and either let things I'm not certain about remain, or I do some research on-line to figure out exactly what it is that I'm considering uninstalling.
I've never reformatted or reinstalled Windows just to get rid of shovelware. As you say, a complete rebuild of a computer is a bit of work. I typically write off the better part of a day to get a Windows XP machine back to a usable state, including all the software and tweaks I care about. (You can read about that in my 7 part series How should I set up my computer?.)
That being said, the amount of "stuff" on my machine - both the initial shovelware and other software I accumulated over time, does factor in to my eventual decision to reformat and start over. More important reasons to rebuild, however, are things like system stability and performance. The fact that a lot of stuff you weren't using doesn't get re-installed is typically just a serendipitous bonus.
So in a nutshell, if the shovelware isn't actually causing you a problem, I'd not do much of anything, except perhaps clean the desktop and start menu. If you do have a reason to want it actually gone, then I'd go the uninstall route, and save the complete system rebuild for more serious issues.
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