by Kevin O’Brien
If you were given the gift of a new laptop this Christmas, you know there’s really no better way to start the New Year. Whether it was upgrading an older notebook, or even your first computer chances are you’re expecting a huge bump in performance. If major notebook manufactures are known for anything these days, it’s filling up your shiny new machine with tons of additional software. This “bloatware” increases startup and shutdown times, increases background disk activity which promotes system lag, and greatly reduces battery life if the system can never reach an idle state. In this guide we’ll go over steps you can take to remove most of the unneeded applications that came preinstalled on your new notebook and hopefully speed it up without going as far as doing a clean install of Windows.
Trial Antivirus Software
While useful to some, one of the most annoying applications is the trial version of Norton AntiVirus and Internet Security software package. This piece of software is usually installed in multiple sections, and since it’s a trial version (which will expire if you don’t purchase it) the program taunts you with registration prompts as soon as you turn on your new notebook. While antivirus software can be great, perhaps even necessary, it’s usually the most system-tasking application outside of gaming software. Constantly monitoring background applications increases hard drive activity as well as processor usage. If you’re careful about the stuff you download or just want to install a free antivirus alternative, Norton software can be the first to go. Search for items starting with Norton or Symantec in the Vista “Programs and Features” control panel, and follow the prompts carefully, since they may try to convince you to keep the software on your system.
Yahoo and Google Toolbars
Toolbars can be useful if you like a search box on every screen, but many find them to be useless and repetitive these days now that every internet browser has a search box that can be set to various search engines. Yahoo and Google toolbars are frequently found on new notebooks, but they‘re not the only ones. One of the most frustrating experiences surfing the web is using a computer that has collected an assortment of toolbars, and having to put up with the huge block of wasted screen space right at the top of the display. Thankfully all of the toolbars I‘ve ever had to deal with are easily uninstalled from the system. Just look for items with “toolbar” in the name found in the Vista “Programs and Features” control panel and remove them to never be seen again.
Some computer manufacturers will also install their own software on a new notebook. These applications usually include software hotfix or update clients, help features, or even the latest news streams about products that might relate to your machine. This software fills up your taskbar, increases startup times as all the different applications load, and can give annoying popup messages. Knowing about software updates is usually a good thing, but little software on your new system outside of some drivers needs its own update client. I have seen some of these update clients constantly bug me to update the client itself. The Windows Vista update manager handles the majority of the system patches, and frequently includes driver updates. I prefer removing all of the manufacturer clients and checking the manufacturer support website every few months to see if there has been any important software releases. The same goes for the help features and news tickers, since online forum communities (such as the ones found here) can be much more useful and informative.
This item isn’t really bloatware, but a Windows application that likes to check for frequent updates or run background tasks that can reduce system performance. Windows Update can be a great utility, bringing in critical security fixes and software patches, but sometimes you don’t really want that to happen when you have 25% battery left and are working on something else away from an outlet. In the default setup Windows is setup to check for updates and install them automatically. I prefer to manually coordinate this activity, especially since Windows Update has been known to pull in the wrong touchpad drivers on my notebook on more than one occasion. This way the computer isn’t downloading tons of updates or trying to install them at the worst times, and I get to look over updates before they are installed. This client has 2 options which I really like to recommend, “Check for updates but let me chose whether to download and install them” and “Never check for updates”. Both of these options leave it up to the user to handle updates, with the first option letting you know if updates exist without downloading or installing them. If you are the forgetful type, let the system nag you about it so you don’t accidentally operate an unsecure system for months. This setting can be changed in the Windows Update control panel, under the “Change Settings” option.
Software to Remove the Bloatware
Some companies have actually written freeware applications specifically designed to remove bloatware. One of the more popular applications is called “The PC Decrapifier”, which does exactly what the name implies. It advertises removal of unneeded desktop icons, resetting the IE homepage, removes unnecessary toolbars, preinstalled trial versions of antivirus packages, and many other bloatware applications. Best of all this application is free for personal use, although they do suggest a $5.00 donation. After installing multiple toolbars and other applications on my notebook it found the main culprits but not everything. Their website does list all the programs it was designed to target though.
Some notebooks might be so loaded with bloatware and other features that you feel there is no other option than a full wipe and fresh install of Windows. Backup software on newer machines can frequently be a cause for this, taking up 3-4GB of space on a separate partition if it did not include recovery disks out of the box. Doing a clean install would let you reorganize the hard drive to reclaim the otherwise wasted space, as well as building the system up exactly how you want it. Some challenges with this option include finding the correct drivers or custom software that enables webcams and other hardware. You also have to put up with pulling in all of the latest Windows updates, which can easily eat up a good chunk of your time. It should be noted that before you wipe a system without recovery disks, that you find out if it supports burning backup disks. This way you have any hard-to-find drivers and software on hand in the event the manufacturer’s website doesn’t list them yet. For brand new models this can be a concern.
Most new notebooks come preloaded from the factory with tons of software, and some of it is capable of slowing down your new machine or just outright annoying you. Some companies explain this is to bring costs down, similar to how websites use ads to help cover bandwidth and other costs. For the avid computer user this bloatware is easily removed, and for the beginner, software exists to walk you through the process. In some ways even the default Windows configuration can seem to be out to get you, but with the right settings you can bring it under control. Bloatware has become a large enough problem that some companies now offer custom configuration options to ship with bloatware removed, or notebook lines such as the Dell Vostro notebooks which include as little preloaded software as possible.