Walt Mossberg

Ways You Can Avoid Getting Junk Programs on Your New Computer

Last week, when I condemned the flood of crippled trial software, ads and offers that come loaded on new Windows Vista computers, readers reacted strongly. I received roughly 700 emails, all but a handful agreeing with me. The column was the most popular article that day on WSJ.com and was cited on numerous other Web sites.

Clearly, many people are furious about these unwanted programs and icons, which are sometimes called craplets. Many would like to smite them without going through the laborious process of uninstalling them manually, one at a time. Some readers suggested strategies. The following are some options.

One ray of hope is a free program called PC Decrapifier. It can be downloaded at pcdecrapifier.com. This software automates the process of uninstalling craplets. It was written originally to clean up Dell computers, but its author says it will work on other brands, too. Before PC Decrapifier runs, it allows you to remove from its proposed deletion list any programs it considers junk, but which you might prefer to retain.

I haven’t tested PC Decrapifier, but even assuming it works well there are a couple of downsides. First, it may not remove every craplet from every manufacturer. Also, unless you carefully tweak the deletions list, PC Decrapifier might remove some full working copies of preinstalled software that you want; it can’t easily differentiate between trial and real versions of some commonly bundled programs.

Another option is to order a PC without the craplets in the first place. Some high-end Dell gaming machines are sold this way. Dell says you can also opt out of some third-party software on other models. Certain business models from various makers can be purchased clean, as well. But even business machines sometimes come with unwanted trial software, like limited versions of accounting programs, and may not be configured for consumers.

Dell, Sony and others say they are moving toward a new scenario in which all of this stuff will be easily refused on all models.

An alternate strategy is to avoid brand-name Windows computers and buy a Vista PC from a local shop that will construct it to your specs and leave off all the craplets. The catch is that you may pay more, and you must be certain that the shop will be around and willing to provide support for the life of the machine.

Some techies wrote me to say that the first thing they do with a new PC is to wipe out the hard disk and reinstall Windows so they start with a clean machine. But I can’t recommend this for average users. For one thing, many new PCs no longer come with disks for reinstalling a full, clean version of Windows. Some have special sections of the hard disk from which you can perform a “recovery,” but these recoveries may not be complete or may reload the craplets along with Windows. You could, of course, buy a fresh copy of Vista to reinstall, but that could cost hundreds of dollars.

Also, wiping out and rebuilding an operating system can be tricky for nontechies. Dell told me, “It is not advisable for nontechie consumers to wipe the hard drive and reinstall. … This is intended as an emergency backup or for the technically sophisticated.” Sony and Gateway sent me similar warnings.

Finally, an excellent way to avoid or minimize the craplet problem is to simply buy an Apple Macintosh computer. New Macs don’t have any craplets displayed on their desktops. On a new Mac, no third-party software is automatically launched when you start the computer, and you don’t need antivirus or antispyware programs because the Mac is essentially free from those menaces. So, even my year-old Mac laptop reboots roughly three times as fast as my three-week-old Sony.

Apple does include a few third-party programs on Macs, including one that, oddly, is for drawing comic-strip effects on photos. But these are tucked away in the applications folder and most are full working versions, not trials or offers. The main exception is a trial version of Microsoft Office. With some Mac models, you get trials of two Apple programs, iWork and FileMaker Pro. But these trials can be deleted simply by dragging the icons to the trash can.

Computer makers should stop dumping craplets on us. Until they do, you can find ways to avoid them.

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