Your new computer is a billboard

I love my online Wall Street Journal subscription, but the newspaper makes it nearly impossible to share its articles with a large audience for free. However, its resident technology guru Walt Mossberg was able to distill the major points of his latest column ("Using Even New PCs Is Ruined by a Tangle Of Trial Programs, Ads," 04/05/07; Page B1) in a streaming video that can be posted to various websites for free. I’ll let him do most of the talking, but here are a few relevant paragraphs (which I am able to post without violating copyright restrictions):

[Refering to his recent purchase of a Sony Vaio SZ laptop loaded with teaser and advertisement software, long a major pet peeve of mine]

The problem is a lack of respect for the consumer. 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 to third-party companies who want you to buy these products.

I’m distinguishing these programs, sometimes called "craplets," from the full-featured, built-in Sony software meant to enhance the computer, or from entire, useful programs Microsoft builds into Windows, such as music and photo organizers.

On my new Sony, there were two dozen trial programs and free offers. The desktop alone contained four icons representing come-ons for various America Online services, and two for Microsoft. The start menu and program menu had more items that I neither chose nor wanted. Napster, a music service I don’t use, was lodged at the lower right of the screen.

The worst was a desktop icon called "Watch Hit Movies Now!" This turned out to be four full-length films from Sony’s movie studios, which the company had preloaded onto my computer at the cost of more than four gigabytes of precious hard-disk space. But they aren’t a gift. If you want to play them, you have to pay Sony.

Then there was the security-software mess. I signed up for a 60-day free trial of Symantec software that Sony offered. This required multiple rounds of scary warnings, scans and updates — on the first day of using a new machine. Plus, when I tried to use a feature that stopped some unwanted programs from loading, I was forced to launch a second, somewhat redundant, security program from Microsoft.

On top of this, Sony informed me it had 21 different software updates available for my brand new laptop.

I have a hard time believing that Mossberg individually uninstalls all of these programs instead of simply re-formatting the hard drive and performing custom installations of the programs he does want, which is what I do and personally recommend for all but technological "newbies."

Sony claims that around 30 percent of consumers act on these promotional offers, so it’s clear that (1) they’re effective and (2) they’ll continue. The issue is simple economics. Why else do you think computers are getting cheaper these days? Paid promotional support isn’t just for game shows, y’know.

(By the way, the article is available online here for subscribers.)

One Response to “Your new computer is a billboard”

  1. […] Junk Programs On Your New Computer”; Page B1). In it, he addresses the issue I raised in my blog post – namely, wiping your hard drive and re-installing Windows: Some techies wrote me to say that the […]

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