When you purchase a prebuilt computer from a major vendor, you normally expect it to operate "right out of the box" without having to do a lot of work to get it configured for Internet browsing, e-mail, document writing, etc. Thus, most purchased computers have pre-installed operating systems so you don't have to spend hours (or longer!) going through the full setup procedure, instead usually requiring only a few minutes revolving around answering questions about your time zone, Internet Service Provider (ISP), how to configure automatic software updates, etc.

Most computers do not just come with an operating system installed but a wide variety of extra software. These may include security programs, CD and DVD burning utilities, basic graphics viewers and editors, multimedia software, trial games, and more. Besides this basic software the installed web browser may also come with a toolbar or two for quick access to various search engines.

While some appreciate this included software, treating it as a "free bonus" when purchasing a computer, others prefer a cleaner machine, free of extraneous applications and utilities. Thus, some have labeled this pre-installed software as "bloatware", calling it such because they feel the software is excessive and "fills up" the computer's hard drive and processing power prematurely.

Why exactly is this software installed on new machines, and what problems can it cause?

First, let's discuss a few typical categories of bloatware:

* Security Software - Unfortunately, some computer operating systems have been so insecure that they could become infected with malware just by connecting the computer to the Internet! This has led many computer manufacturers to include security software on new machines. Vendors may think that if the software was not included, many users might not install security software at all!

Pre-installed security software may take the form of various individual programs or a suite of applications that provide a firewall plus protection against spam, viruses, malware, and other "nasties" on the Internet.

However, the included security software is not purely installed for altruistic reasons. These applications must be updated constantly to stay effective, and may only be licensed initially for 3, 6, 12, or 15 months. Afterwards, the user must purchase an extension to continue to download updates, providing a convenient "lock-in" for the software manufacturer.

* Search Engine Toolbars and Related Software - Some people appreciate a handy toolbar in their web browser giving them instant access to the many capabilities of a modern search engine. However, these are not usually included just for user convenience - there might be payment involved from the search engine to the computer manufacturer. These toolbars can help create user "lock-in" to a particular search engine, because if users become accustomed to accessing search features via the toolbar, they are less likely to try another service.

* Trial or Feature-Limited Software - Prebuilt computers often come with trial or feature-limited versions of games, graphics viewers/editors, CD and DVD burning software, and other applications. Computer manufacturers like to place this software on machines to provide a bonus to the end-user, sometimes advertising that their computers come built-in with "hundreds of dollars of free software". However, software manufacturers get something out of this deal - they hope if you like the trial or feature-limited versions of the software, you might purchase the full versions via always-convenient order buttons.

Unfortunately, bloatware can cause problems, which is why you may want to remove some of these applications and utilities:

* Actual "Bloat" - Pre-installed bloatware may require a large portion of the computer's hard drive, meaning you may be able to store fewer files than expected. Also, portions of these applications may run continuously, using up CPU time, causing your computer to run slower.

* Software Conflicts - Bloatware may conflict with other software you may download and/or purchase. Also, if you choose to run different security software, removing the pre-installed applications may require a great deal of time.

* Uninstaller Bloat - Even if you remove some or all of the bloatware, uninstallers are notorious for not completely removing all traces of applications from a system. Pieces of software may remain in the computer virtually forever unless manually removed by an expert computer technician or via registry and other software cleaners.

* Unneeded Features - Of course, you may wish to remove some of these applications because you frankly just don't need them. You may not deal with photos, you may not like the computer manufacturer's multimedia software, you may find the software manufacturer's technical support applications useless and a waste of hard drive space, etc.

Most vendor-built computers come with a pre-installed operating system, potentially saving you hours of time. However, bloatware may be included, applications that the vendor thinks you will find valuable. While some of these programs such as security software may be of use, bloatware can cause problems. These applications may fill up your computer with features you do not need or conflict with software installed later. Plus, even if you uninstall this software, parts of the bloatware may remain. Thus, while bloatware may provide money in the coffers of computer manufactures and provide software companies and web services with a convenient "locked-in" user base, its actual usefulness for some computer users may be questionable.

Copyright 2009 Andrew Malek.

Author's Bio: 

Andrew Malek is the owner of the MalekTips computer and technology help site at malektips.com/. MalekTips offers thousands of computer tips for beginners and experts including advice on searching the Internet at malektips.com/internet-search/, websites to browse, and how to stay safe when online.