It’s that you really don’t know when the computer you buy is going to be compromised from the word “go.”
Recently, Lenovo sold more than 43 different models of laptops and desktops on which they loaded the usual assortment of crap bloatware. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a collection of various programs which the maker is paid to load onto the computers it sells. Often the bloatware is questionable, producing annoyances for users. More than once I have known people who were incredibly annoyed by it, but could not figure out how to uninstall it—and so were forced to make calls to the maker’s technical support line to find out how they could rid their computer of it all.
Usually, the worst of the annoyances are System Tray popups, like you get now from software like Avast. Stuff that has to constantly be dismissed until you’re annoyed enough to pay—nagware, as it’s often called.
However, recent Lenovo users started noticing that their computers were doing more than the usual amount of intrusions. They began to notice that web site that shouldn’t have any ads in them started showing ads.
I’ve seen this before. I create web sites for the classes I teach, and of course there are no ads. So I was surprised when a student in the computer lab asked me why I had put ads on my site. I looked, and lo, there were huge sidebar ads on the page! For a moment, I thought my site had been hacked, until I checked other machines in the lab, and it became clear that only this one PC was affected.
Another time, a family member was suffering from all kinds of unwanted ads appearing, including those pop-up banners across the bottom of the browser window. Turns out that a browser add-on was responsible.
That’s the kind of thing Lenovo had built into a large number of their computers sold in past months—specifically, adware going by the name of Superfish, which is not just adware, but adware which opens gaping security holes in your system. Worse, Lenovo’s “solution” is to remove the adware… but leave the gaping security holes intact.
It’s hard to tell if this is worse than the time Dell sold computers for a couple years that had severe hardware defects—defects which Dell knew about, but still sold the computers and lied about the flaw to customers. I was acutely aware of this because my school had bought these very computers, and just weeks after the one-year warranty expired, fully half of the computers in our lab failed in the exact same way over the span of just a few weeks.
Nor are these fly-by-night operators: Lenovo is the PC unit of IBM that was sold to a Chinese manufacturer, and Dell is hardly an unknown lightweight in the market. Nor are they the only ones with problems like these.
Discussing this at work, a colleague (who hates anything Apple) complained that Apple computers are loaded with bloatware. And it is true that when you get an Apple computer, there are dozens of apps pre-installed. However, to call them “bloatware” is, I think, more than a little unfair. If you define “bloatware” as nothing more than “potentially unwanted software pre-installed on a device,” then technically the statement is correct.
However, the term “bloatware” has come to mean much more than that. The most powerful connotations include:
- Demo Software which quickly become useless nagware;
- Software which runs on startup and consumes significant system resources;
- Adware, as noted in the Lenovo/Superfish report above;
- Spyware, collecting data on the user without the user’s knowing consent;
- Software which creates security risks the user is unaware of;
- Software which takes up an inordinate amount of disk space;
- Software which is difficult to remove.
Of all the above connotations, only one, possibly two apply to any Apple products. GarageBand comes pre-installed on most, if not all Macs, and includes almost 3 GB of support files (mostly loops and tutorials) which can be difficult to delete only because most people don’t know where to find them. Once you know, it’s simple—just throw them in the trash, along with the app. iLife and iWork, the next biggest offenders, come with less than a gig of support files between them.
And that’s about it. That’s the worst of it. Most other Apple apps have a relatively small profile before they are used. No demos. No adware, spyware, or malware of any sort. What little that runs on startup is part of the operating system, providing as-advertised system functions. Most are dead simple to get rid of.
And, unlike most of the “crapware” that comes on Windows boxes, Apple’s apps are, for the most part, pretty decent. Take a look at the a list of the the more notable apps:
- Activity Monitor
- Boot Camp Assistant
- Disk Utility
- DVD Player
- Font Book
- iPhoto / Photos
- Keychain Access
- Photo Booth
- QuickTime Player
You may not like all of them, or even most of them, but frankly, there’s some excellent stuff in there. I am unimpressed with Pages and despise Numbers… but Keynote is an excellent app. Dictionary is invaluable, especially how it works system-wide. Most people get a kick out of playing with Photo Booth. Keychain Access is imperfect, but very handy, and is much more useful now that it works over iCloud. Previous versions of Messages was so-so until Apple hooked it into your iPhone’s SMS app. Disk Utility is useful in addition to being simple and easy to figure out.
Perhaps the most overlooked app is Preview, which acts as a PDF reader and an image editor… and is really good at both. Not to mention how OS X, from the start, has had built-in system-wide PDF authoring capability.
Out of the 28 apps listed above, I use about half on a regular basis, and others from time to time.
If you want to call this bloatware, fine—but I would take Apple’s bloatware over that on any Windows PC any day of the week and twice on Sunday. There is a massive qualitative difference between the two. Apple’s is designed to be valuable, useful software of use to as many people as possible without cost or annoyance. The crapware on Windows boxes, even when not a major security risk, is put there primarily to make money off of you and annoy the fracking hell out of you.
So, yes, slight difference.