So, by this point we hopefully have all heard about spyware, adware, malware. And we all know that this is nasty stuff, and that we should avoid having it on our systems – they tend to slow things down, eat resources, get in the way, destabilize things, what have you. Bad stuff.

Today, I want to cover shovelware. Shovelware is that software which is of such low quality or is otherwise so nearly useless to you (or has an atrocious usefulness to resources ratio) that just about the only way the companies can get it in front of you is to pay hardware manufacturers to pre-install it on new machines, or otherwise bundle it with other software you do want. If you don’t get a choice to install it or not, it’s probably shovelware. Shovelware takes up resources, but usually isn’t as malevolent as spyware – it’s not trying to record keystrokes or the web pages you visit. But it does cost you. And often it ends up in front of you because someone somewhere along the supply chain didn’t have the right motivations – they weren’t thinking about how to help you, the customer, but how to extract the biggest revenue dollars. Maybe some engineer stopped being excited about going to work and it just became a job.

Who knows?

I’ve hit a bunch of examples of shovelware lately. It bugs me, because I like a neat, clean system. A clean system performs better, feels better. And logs in a whole bunch faster.

The first resource offense most shovelware commits is the task tray icon on Windows. Hey, some software really has a legitimate reason for starting up when I log in and having an icon there. Palm Hot Sync, a virus scanner, Microsoft AntiSpyware – these all have a legitimate reason for starting up when I log in, and might as well have an easy access icon. But QuickTime? Java? C’mon, these things can be lazy started. And don’t insult me by giving me an option to hide the darned icon. That’s not what I want – I want you to not eat resources just because I logged in. Some of these things are even more pointless. HP’s printer drivers now install an additional little tray icon utility, and I don’t see the value add – everything it gives you access to is available elsewhere as far as I can figure out. But can I stop it from loading at startup? Is some critical service wrapped up in that resource theft? Do I really need some WinCinema manager in the taskbar tray making login take an extra 10 seconds? And just why is it so hard to keep Microsoft Messenger from starting up?

Of course, there’s also the Start menu pollution and disk space munching that happens. I needed to burn a CD from an .iso image on my Media Center the other day, and the program I would normally use (CDRWin) doesn’t like that drive. So, I’d heard about Nero, decided to give that a try. First, the download was 100MB – crazy. Clearly, there’s other junk in there. When I installed the trial, it installed all sorts of shovelware I didn’t want (now, I don’t know if what they installed was good stuff or not – it was just useless *for me*, and that’s the key). I just wanted the burning component. But because I couldn’t just get and buy the burning component, I gave up, uninstalled Nero, and searched a little harder, finding CD Burner XP Pro. Not only was it free, it worked and didn’t come with any shovelware. Nice.

Heck, I think shovelware is one of the things that hurt RealPlayer so much. Once they started bundling all the shovelware with the player, I gave up on it. Who needs all that garbage – some of which verges on adware – when there are ways of getting media content without it?

Then there’s the shovelware that comes with a new system. Both Dell and HP are bad about this (I’m sure others are as well, I just don’t have direct experience with them). It’s why many of us have a policy of wiping out and installing from a *real* Windows XP install CD right after getting a new machine, and why I think most of those “restore” disks are practically useless. My policy is to never buy a machine that doesn’t come with a real Windows install CD – a policy I violated with my Media Center PC, and of course ended up regretting when I restored it to try and stabilize it only to find that all the shovelware HP was installing meant the system didn’t even start out too terribly stable. Yuck. Wouldn’t it be nice if a system just coming out of the box was actually *clean*, and not the mucked up, dirty, registry scrambled mess that most manufacturers think pass for acceptable these days?

Of course, there’s also the case of software that starts out useful and devolves. I like my MusicMatch radio, but over the past two years, the darned thing has gone from eating 10% of my machine CPU to just about half. I don’t know what you do to waste that sort of time, but that’s getting near the limit of tolerability – that is software that is on the verge of becoming shovelware for me (though I really like having music playing while I work, so I can tolerate quite a bit). MP3 players tend to skirt this edge more than other programs it seems, grabbing memory and keystrokes and otherwise doing things that get in the way.

Now, I’m sure that any and all this stuff may be useful to someone, somewhere. But it isn’t to me, and I don’t want to have to go digging around afterward shutting it off. I know conventional wisdom says that modern machines have enough power and memory for all this stuff, but there is just so much of this junk that it’s death by a thousand paper cuts. Every percentage of CPU actually counts – it could make the difference between a clean and glitchy video capture. And every chunk of RAM that is forcefully kept alive counts – when that blue line (free RAM) in my Performance Monitor hits 10MB, things are going to come to a crawl (I always have Performance Monitor running on Windows and X Resource Graph running on Mac, though Activity Monitor is OK in a pinch).

I suppose the worst part is that it’s just so darned hard to keep a machine clean. Yeah, I go into Add/Remove Programs regularly and clean up old junk – but sometimes things are bundled in ways that you can’t get rid of the bad without getting rid of the good. And even if you could, you still have to have a good registry cleaner because so many of the uninstallers are half-hearted efforts. And you shouldn’t really have to pull open the Program Files directory to go cleaning up disk files left behind, but often do. It used to be that you’d have to completely re-install Windows 98 every so often because the system itself became unstable. Now, while Windows XP itself is stable, it’s getting to the point where you have to do a re-install just to really get rid of all the vestiges of all that shovelware.



11 Responses to Shovelware

  1. Lisa says:

    Oh no, I can’t take anymore “ware” anything! I too am a clean freak and am always getting rid of junk on my computer. I can’t do too much cleaning though, because I do not know whats what. I just want CLEAN and sable. The systems tray/startup thing makes me nuts too! Stay out of my trays!! Thanks for all the good info here. My sis have major PS CS bog down trouble and had to re-install windows… I know it is better, but not fixed. Ho hum.

  2. Brian Poff says:

    I guess you haven’t tried installing Adobe Reader lately. It is quite dilligent about wanting me to install the Yahoo! toolbar and a bunch of other stuff.I wistfully remember Reader 4.0 which started up almost instantly…

  3. Scott Byer says:

    Yup, I hadn’t installed Reader lately or I’d have added a complaint about that. It seems that just about every little utility I try and install nowadays asks about some Yahoo/Google toolbar or other. Yuch, yuch, yuch. At least they ask, but still…-Scott

  4. Claudio says:

    Argh. Don’t even mention those polluted restore disks :(I give Toshiba the no. 1 shovelware prize — nearly a dozen small utilities that replace the very same functionality already present in XP.Power management, network configuration etc. All lined up in the tray area. It took me a day to remove them all :((

  5. Dave Murdock says:

    Scott you really hit apon a key reason why I switched to the Mac at home. I just can’t take having to clean up all this junk on both my work machine (I am a Windows developer) and my home machine. Life is too short.

  6. Stan Sieler says:

    Aother annoyance, related to:HP’s printer drivers now install an additional little tray icon utility,Based on an experience in Feb/06, I found they also set the HP printer to be the system default printer every time the system boots up!

  7. Dennis says:

    Nice rant Scott. Love it. :)I have started to create customised XP install cds using nLite ( With this cool piece of freeware I can remove all the ‘shovelware’ Microsoft forces us to install and slipstream in SP2, all hotfixes, and drivers. Its great I no longer need to spend days restoring my system and getting back to work.

  8. Lazza says:

    I whole heartedly agree, damn resource munching programs ruined my life. thats why i choose scooters. better than smack

  9. Yugo says:

    I too definitely hate having to clean crap off of my PC every time I get a update or decide to get rid of some useless software. Lately, I have been using Registry Repair by StompSoft to keep my registry clean. So at least I don’t have to worry about that aspect. Now, if I could only get my computer to maintain itself all would be good with the world. 😉

  10. Milly says:

    “…you still have to have a good registry cleaner because so many of the uninstallers are half-hearted efforts.”Isn’t that the truth. I have been using StompSoft’s Registry Repair on my system every time I delete a program that I no longer need. I am always surprised at the amount of crap that is left over after an uninstall; and we wonder where all of our hard disk space is going. Oh well, I guess you just have to keep plugging away.

  11. Michael Hershberger says:

    Dave’s right, it’s also the reason I made the switch to Mac. It’s been two years since I bought my first Mac and it still feels like a clean install of Mac OS X. The speed is always consistent. There were a few “trial” applications bundled on my new Mac, but they were easily removed, leaving no trace behind. It’s easy to remove any traces of software with Spotlight. In most cases, when I delete an application, all that’s left is the .plist file, which I search for in Spotlight and remove. I know what you mean though… Back in my PC days, I would do a clean install of Windows (95, 98, ME, 2000, XP) every three months or so. It’s terrible! Why haven’t you switched to Mac yet? I just can’t figure out what’s holding everyone back… especially since BootCamp. Macs are selling quite well right now. Maybe people really are starting to realize that there’s a better choice out there.