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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.

"I've never reformatted or reinstalled Windows just to get rid of shovelware."

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.

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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.

Article C2757 - August 17, 2006 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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10 Comments
Michael Horowitz
August 17, 2006 8:23 PM

Much of the "shovelware" is set run automatically at startup time. So, while I agree with Leo about not uninstalling and about gettting it out of your face, I would add that it's worth some time to prevent programs from running automatically that you don't use.

Windows XP comes with the hidden "msconfig" command, but there is much better software for handling this. I am partial to Startup Control Panel from Mike Lin at mlin.net. If you're a techie, then look into Autoruns from sysinternals.com. Both are free.

Daniel Ullman
August 18, 2006 9:01 AM

A far number of my customers buy Dells. I found, and use, this Dell De-Cr**ifier. Wonder thing. It can be found at:
http://www.yorkspace.com/2006/04/38

Greg Bulmash
August 18, 2006 4:50 PM

My VAIO laptop came with a lot of shovelware on it, but what was really annoying is that a lot that loaded at start-up was Sony's DRM apps so I could use the Sony Music Store.

This laptop came with 512 megs of RAM, then sacrificed an unadjustable 128 megs to "shared video ram", then the shovelware being loaded at startup ate up around another 128 megs of memory, leaving me with an effective 256 megs of RAM for running Windows XP and the apps I wanted.

Shovelware that starts up at boot and sits there, eating up valuable system resources is pernicious. It can actually slow down your computer by forcing it into using virtual memory when you have just one or two applications open.

Shovelware that is just wasting diskspace... no biggie. But Sony, just like with their rootkit DRM on those CDs, show that they have absolutely no consideration for their customers. They would actually degrade the performance of their products rather than give consumers choice in the matter.

Barb Snyder
August 19, 2006 8:56 AM

A friend installed Corel Suite. I now want to uninstall this program. My friend lost the original CD of Corel Suite. I have tried uninstalling but it asks for the original CD. How do I get rid of this program now?

Barb Snyder
August 19, 2006 9:47 AM

I have no CD - how do I get at Windows XP setup?

starvinmarvin
August 19, 2006 11:38 AM

Formatting the hard drive and reinstalling Windows to get rid of bundled software might not work, anyway.

This is because some major brands of computers provide a "Restore Disc" CD that includes both Windows and all that bundled software, and it all installs together!

Our Compaq laptop used this method, but our Dell desktop pc has WindowsXP on one CD and bundled software on other cDs.

Kathy
August 23, 2006 12:00 PM

I want to uninstall McGafee that came preinstalled in my VAIO laptop along with the sony extras. I went to the add/remove programs list but it refuses to delete everything! I hate McGafee and want it out of my computer-what do I do?

Mike Bermingham
October 14, 2008 2:33 PM

For stubborn items you wish to remove, try Revo Uninstaller, a free programme for this purpose.

Rocco
August 18, 2009 10:55 AM

I use a very powerful pgm. named East-Tec Eraser.
Not free but will erase any stubborn file or program.

Ward Peare
August 18, 2009 4:04 PM

"http://www.pcdecrapifier.com/"

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