When you buy a new PC, you’d expect it to come with a fresh installation of Windows and a clutter-free hard drive. But often manufacturers will preload their computers with all kinds of unnecessary programs, often called 'bloatware'.
Almost all manufacturers are guilty of doing this to some degree. If there are lots of strange shortcut icons on your desktop when you first start your PC, or if the All Programs section of the Start Menu lists lots of non-Microsoft applications that you never use, then your PC may be bursting with bloatware.
How to identify bloatware
Many preinstalled bloatware programs can be uninstalled easily, but the trick lies in knowing what can be safely removed and what you should keep.
Disc-burning and multimedia applications, for example, are largely extraneous - particularly in the case of Windows 7, which already comes with its own built-in Windows Media Player and CD/DVD-burning functions.
If you find programs installed on your computer that you’ve never used, and have no intention of using, these could be bloatware that you can easily uninstall.
Software on a new PC
It’s worth spending a few weeks with the software installed on a new PC to see whether you’re likely to use it. You could also contact your PC manufacturer to ask them which applications are safe to remove.
If, by accident, you uninstall something useful, don’t worry - your PC should have been supplied with discs containing backup copies so you can always reinstall the programs.
Trials and demos
Demo or trial software is a prime candidate for removal. Even preinstalled security software can be removed. Most offer trial periods of anything from 90 days to a year. After this, you’d need to pay to renew your licence. But even if you don’t, it can stay on your PC and prompt you to upgrade to the paid-for version. Instead, you may wish to uninstall it and choose a free alternative.
Windows 8 comes with adequate protection built in, although Windows 7 will need at least an additional anti-virus program. Thankfully, there are many free alternatives available. We recommend using the Best Buy Microsoft Security Essentials.
Remove browser toolbars
Extra web browser toolbars are a classic example of bloatware. These sometimes come preinstalled with your PC, and many downloadable applications will attempt to add unnecessary toolbars.
Toolbars typically appear at the top of your browser window, and often provide their own search box. These are usually redundant, since most modern browsers come with their own built-in search boxes. They slow down browsing and use up valuable screen space.
Uninstalling toolbars can be done in the same way as other software. And look out for toolbars when installing other programs; usually you will be offered the choice to opt out by unticking a tick box.
Avoid further bloatware
Cameras and printers often come with an installation CD, but it’s not always a good idea to install all the software it contains.
Scanners and printers usually need you to install a driver, but you may not wish to add additional software, such as photo organisers or label designers if you are not going to use them.
Cameras often come with software that isn’t always terribly useful, especially if you already have photo-editing or organising tools that you prefer to use. Even if the software sounds good, it is often function-limited, rather than the full version. You may already have better software on your PC.
Disable start-up software
Bloatware can launch at startup and run in the background, slowing down your PC.
Check the Notification Area (the bottom-right of the taskbar). Move your cursor over any icons you don’t recognise to reveal what the programs are, and click the upwards-pointing arrow to reveal any hidden icons. Right-click on any you don’t need and select Options > Settings > Preferences > Advanced. Within the settings you should find an option labelled ‘Run at Startup’. By deselecting this and restarting your PC, you should find your computer runs faster.