Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dell, crapware, and Windows 10...

Dell, crapware, and Windows 10...  My friend and neighbor Tim D. recently bought a new computer.  He chose an inexpensive Dell model sold through Walmart.  Shortly after he bought it, he called me for some help: his new computer was vastly slower than the one it replaced, and he basically had no idea how to do anything.

So I ran over to his house, delighted to be able to do something to help repay him for the weeks of assistance he gave me in the past couple of years.  I had no idea what to expect.

First thing I saw was that the Windows 10 screen was like some alien thing had taken over his computer.  I haven't used Windows for nearly 10 years now, but I expected to see at least something recognizable.  There really wasn't much!  Everything seemed to have new icons, new names, and new places on the screen.  Those bits and pieces of Windows lore that I could dredge up were largely useless.  If it's that alien for someone like me, who has lived and breathed computers for almost 50 years – imagine what it's like for a non-techie who has no understanding of the technology and uses computers only casually!  Poor Tim was completely and totally lost – and I wasn't much help until I did some online reading to figure out a few basic things.

Then there was the crapware.  If you're not familiar with the term, here's the Wikipedia article.  This stuff isn't on every new computer (it's not on Macs at all, for example), but it's on nearly every low-cost Windows machine.  Dell has a reputation for being amongst the worst crapware offenders, and after seeing Tim's computer I can understand how they got this reputation.

Some of the crapware is “opt-in”, meaning that you have to install it before it does anything.  Most of it, though, was pre-installed – very, very annoying.  Worst of all was a malignant piece of crapware called NowUSeeIt Player: it was not only pre-installed, but it came with no uninstall program.  I call it “malignant” because it was putting up dozens of pop-over ads per hour.  Most of these were for bogus “security programs” that had scary-sounding (and looking) screens that tried hard to look like a Windows error screen.  They tried to scare the viewer into calling (with their credit card ready!) a company that really was just a front, would do nothing to help your computer, but would take some money out of your credit card account.  Probably they'd steal your credit card number, too!

Altogether, over the course of about four visits with Tim, I probably spent 5 or 6 hours cleaning his crapware-infested brand new computer.  A non-technical person would have been there much longer, and might not have succeeded at all.  That's just awful on Dell's part (it was their choice to earn a few bucks per machine by installing this horrible stuff).  I'm sure they don't care, but ... though I've often recommended Dell to people in the past (and bought quite a few of them myself), I will no longer do so.  In fact, I will actively recommend against Dell until I can satisfy myself that they've dispensed with the crapware.

I did have one piece of this experience that made me chuckle.  I found a guide on the Internet somewhere that described how one could get rid of NowUSeeIt Player even though it had no uninstaller.  Mainly it involved deleting registry keys (The “registry” is a uniquely Microsoft invention that is mostly horrible).  I had no idea how to do that on Windows 10, but I imagined it was some new tool, with a new name, that worked completely differently than the old tool.  That led to the chuckle.  There's no new tool.  You just use RegEdit, the same tool one used on the earliest versions of Windows.  So far as I could tell, there was nothing new or improved about this notoriously awful tool.  Using RegEdit is roughly akin to being force to hammer in a nail by using your pen knife, with the blade as the handle.  Tim and I tediously deleted the 100 or so registry keys that the NowUSeeIt Player installs, and afterwards his computer was (a) blessedly free of those incredibly annoying pop-over ads, and (b) at least three times faster than it had been.

Dell, you should be ashamed of yourselves.  You owe your customers a heartfelt apology, at the very least.  You really should find a way to compensate them for the tortures you've visited upon them, too.  Along with their geekly friends who have gotten them free of your crapware!

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