Craplets backlash rising

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

Frequent readers of CBC's technology news section (or tech news in general) may recall the craplets story I broke in January. After an initial storm of activity, things seemed to settle down. Now it appears that a recent column in the Wall Street Journal has reignited interest in craplets, and the predominantly paid-placement programs typically pre-installed on new computers running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system are apparently starting to fall out of favour.

Given Microsoft's hand-wringing over craplets ahead of the consumer launch of the Vista version of Windows, it's not surprising that the software giant's user experience evangelist, Chris Bernard, has weighed in on the matter, in a post to his Design Thinking Digest blog simply titled On Craplets.

Bernard recounts what he says was a flawless experience installing Vista and application software on his new Sony VAIO laptop computer that "reminded me of other experiences with other operating systems that I won't mention," (after confessing "if Apple put out a MacBook Pro with similar specs in a 13 [inch screen] I'd look at that too as I could run OS X, Vista and Ubuntu and that is some serious tech geek Nirvana").

My Sony is a beautiful machine, I love the way it looks and the way it travels, but there is so much junk software that came with it that it disrupts what should be a much better computing experience. Sadly, this is probably true of a lot of computer manufacturers.

He goes on to echo comments that surfaced online after craplets entered the popular vocabulary in January, suggesting that PC makers could offer machines without the programs for an additional fee.

Doing this would show that they realize people aren't buying a box but that they are engaging in an experience with their products that will allow them to create emotional connections with their customers. This is what makes the world go around these days…. In this world craplets have got to go.

PC makers may be nearing that point, according to a feature about craplets by CNet News service (which graciously links back to our CBC story). Ina Fried reports that PC makers are growing increasingly wary of their customers' ire when it comes to the programs they're piling onto hard drives pre-purchase.

The practice has also alienated some consumers who say all such "crapware" is clogging their hard drives and bogging down their systems.

For the moment, computer makers appear to be trying to walk a fine line, tweaking their approaches slightly but hoping not to have to slay a cash cow. Gateway, for example, offers only one program in each category, while Dell has added an option for some models that allow a user to configure a system with no trial software.

"We've seen the evolution," IDC analyst Richard Shim said. "The desktop became kind of a billboard for Internet service providers and software. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way."

As Fried notes, the Wall Street Journal's personal technology columnist Walt Mossberg tackled craplets (alas, without mentioning the CBC) in a recent column about PC Decrapifier software that aims to scrub PCs clean of craplets (as previously mentioned on the Gizmodo blog).

Inevitably, Fried also mentions Apple's latest Get a Mac commercial that takes potshots at Windows machines: Stuffed had us chuckling sadly at the (shaded) truth of its message as PC Guy John Hodgman explained his pain.

"It's all this trial software, they pack my hard drive full of it – all these programs that don't do very much unless you buy the whole thing are just plain useless. It really slows me down."