Tracking down and removing unwanted software bundled with a new PC

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I’ve heard many comments over the years about the volume of crapware installed on new PCs but had not experienced it first hand until yesterday, when I was setting up a new Dell Inspiron 1525.

Even Macs come with some bundled software (e.g. trial versions of Microsoft Office and Apple iWork applications) but I was amazed by the volume of unrequired software that I needed to remove from this machine.

In fact, I think that now I understand why people think Windows Vista is so bad. It’s not Vista at all – its all the various add-ons that the OEMs bundle that confuse the user experience with bizarre interfaces and which generally gunk up the operating system by loading additional applications into memory (Dell even has an application to present a poor imitation of the MacOS X dock to Windows Vista users).  I don’t mind Microsoft Works (it’s useful if you don’t have a copy of Microsoft Office – although it should also be noted that alternative office suites are available); I don’t even mind a 30-day trial of a security suite (even though I think that McAfee, Symantec, et al are preying on the insecurities of vulnerable consumers); but, by way of an example, this is a list of all the items that I removed from the computer I was setting up:

  • Dell Dock
  • PCMService
  • Adobe Reader Speed Launcher
  • Google Toolbar Notifier
  • Tiscali Internet
  • Sonic Update Manager
  • Roxio Express Labeler
  • Remove Empty Program Folders
  • Google Desktop
  • McAfee Security Center
  • Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer
  • NetWaiting
  • QuickSet
  • Browser Address Error Redirector
  • Live! Cam Avatar Creator
  • Internet from BT
  • OutlookAddinSetup
  • MediaDirect
  • Dell-eBay
  • Dell Best of Web
  • Digital Line Detect
  • Roxio Creator DE
  • Microsoft Works
  • Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack
  • Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 Viewer
  • GoToAssist

So, how does one go about working out what’s safe to remove and what should stay?  A bit of Googling helps – to try and find out what some of the more esoteric items on the list really are – but there were three tools I found useful whilst cleansing this PC:

  1. First of all – the comically named PC Decrapifier is an excellent piece of software for identifying items that you may wish to remove.
  2. Next up, Autoruns is a Sysinternals tool which may be used to identify any programs configured during Windows startup/logon and can help to identify any remnants of the previous uninstallations.  As all that happens is the delection/selection of a checkbox, the changes made in Autoruns are non-destructive.
  3. Whilst the first two tools are freestanding applications and do not require installation, the third one does – and somewhat ironically the default installation options include the Yahoo! Toolbar (another unnecessary addition).  Even so, CCleaner is useful for clearing away any unused files and registry items (and is easily uninstalled afterwards).

The final piece of the puzzle was removing the PowerPoint 2007 Viewer.  The Control Panel applet to uninstall or change a program didn’t display an uninstall button (just repair) and the source location was missing so even a repair didn’t work.  I downloaded and reinstalled a fresh copy but that still wouldn’t uninstall, so I dropped back to the command line:

powerpointviewer.exe /extract:./powerpointviewer

cd powerpointviewer

msiexec /x ppviewer.msi

Executing these commands extracts the contents of the PowerPoint Viewer installation package to a folder, changes directory into the folder and cleanly removes the application.  After having done that, I installed a full copy of Office on the computer (so I no longer required the viewer).

There is an argument that the payment to the OEMs to bundle this software helps us to pay less for our computers but it’s a lot of work just to strip a pre-installed OS back to the bare operating system, plus any OEM-specific support utilities (the reason for not just wiping the hard disk and starting over).  Thankfully, buying a new PC is not something I do too often – and the removal of the unnecessary items should help me when I’m faced with the inevitable task of supporting this computer following its presentation to a family member in a few days’ time…

3 thoughts on “Tracking down and removing unwanted software bundled with a new PC

  1. Thanks for this post mate, it’s going to come in very handy due to the PC World sale, we’re looking at a 17″ HP G70120EM for a few pence shy of £500. I have experience of the plethora of OS “add-ons” that HP produce, so this’ll be fun ;)

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