updated 02:35 pm EDT, Fri April 6, 2007
WSJ on Trial Software
The overwhelming amount of advertising and trial software installed on modern Windows PCs is killing the user experience, the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg wrote on Friday. The columnist noted that his new Sony VAIO SZ and most other Windows PCs come preloaded with large quantities of third-party programs that help subsidize the system's cost but which frequently harm its performance and pop up interfering dialog boxes. Security software also created problems by forcing interested owners to deal with configuring and scanning their systems before they can actually be used.
Mossberg noted that the difference in performance between his relatively quick system and an uncluttered system was dramatic, showing the effect of the 24 installed ad-related and demo programs.
"Restarting took over three minutes, and a cold start took more than two minutes. That suggests the computer is loading a bunch of stuff [on boot] I neither know about nor want," he said. "By contrast, a brand new Apple MacBook laptop, under the same test conditions, restarted in 34 seconds and did a cold start in 29 seconds."
Sony for its part defended its decision in contact with the journalist, arguing that the long start times were not out of line with what competitors offered. A full 30 percent of customers took advantage of at least some of the programs, the company claimed.
Nevertheless, the author took issue with the industry-wide practice on moral as well as practical grounds. "The problem is a lack of respect for the consumer," he added. "The manufacturers don't act as if the computer belongs to you. They act as if it is a billboard for restricted trial versions of software and ads for Web sites and services that they can sell."
Neither Apple nor Microsoft have actively endorsed forced bundling and have in some cases provided criticism. The former company includes trial software on its Mac range but has so far refrained from placing any desktop icons or background processes on customers' systems. One ad from the company's well-known "Get a Mac" ad campaign specifically targed the issue of excessive software bundles by joking about the amount of time needed to clean a Windows system out of the box.
Microsoft, in turn, has privately and infamously dubbed the myriad of programs "craplets" for their tendency to bog down and crash the operating system, falsely convincing some owners that their copies of Windows, and pre-installed third-party tools, were causing the problem.