If you hate PC bloatware, here are the vendors to avoid

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Lenovo may have publicly buried bloatware, but it’s anything but dead. After the company’s Superfish scandal, we shopped Best Buy and found it alive and well on major vendors’ PC offerings. A little research should save you from the worst of it, though. Here’s what we learned. 

Bloatware is as bloatware does

We call it bloatware, but PC executives make clear that they install software on PCs to benefit consumers and pad tiny profit margins. The vast majority is harmless (if obnoxious), and some, such as a year’s subscription to Microsoft’s Office 365, arguably increase a PC’s value without increasing the price.

The now-infamous Superfish is an adware tool that supplied its own paid search results, and it came preinstalled on certain Lenovo PCs. Intended as a service to help users comparison-shop, Superfish was more than annoying—it was a security risk. (The developers behind Superfish claim there’s no security risk at all, while researchers disagree. The Superfish vulnerability has been found in other apps as well.)

Lenovo apologized and said it would make amends—though its commitment to reducing bloatware actually comes with several loopholes. If nothing else, however, Lenovo’s Superfish seppuku did one thing right: It shone a spotlight on exactly how widespread bloatware is. Our trip to Best Buy yielded pages of notes on preinstalled apps on PCs. 

superfish in action on apple Mills Baker

Most preinstalled software is merely annoying—far different than Superfish (above) which injected its own ads into Web pages like Apple.com.

Not-so-secret shopping

At Best Buy, we jotted down the bloatware apps inside individual PCs from Asus to Toshiba. Our conclusions: Bloatware varied not just from vendor to vendor, but from model to model. The more disk or flash storage a PC had, the freer some vendors seemed to feel to fill it up with unwanted third-party software. Conversely, tablets, regardless of vendor, seemed to offer less bloatware.

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