How Dell and others can fix the "crapware" problem — honorably

One of the things that can be annoying about the blogosphere (and people in general) is harping and complaining without offering reasonable suggestions for solutions to various problems. In my last post about my trials with my neighbors’ Dell machine, I complained but offered no way to reconcile the situation. Jeremy and I had a discussion a little while ago about all of this and during the discussion, I had what I think is a perfectly reasonable idea that I think could solve this problem in an honorable way for everyone involved. First, here are my base assumptions about the business of all this extra software on new PCs:

  • Computer manufacturers (of which Dell is just one) are subsidizing the sale of cheap computers through distribution deals with the companies whose software and services appear on their desktops. I assume that these computers would be more expensive without these various offers. This suggests that there is a defined per-PC dollar amount that can be attributed to the inclusion of these services. Let’s say for the sake of argument that this amount is $200. It could be any amount — but it’s something.
  • Consumers are accustomed to the trades inherent in traditional advertising models, i.e. free services in exchange for advertising messages. We view advertising on Yahoo and Google in exchange for search results. We accept commercials on television to a large degree (Tivos notwithstanding). These models are changing constantly in our cluetrain world, but in general, they are alive and well.

OK, with those assumptions in place, here’s my simple proposal: at the point-of-sale (online or in a retail environment), computer manufacturers should offer consumers the option to take advantage of the trialware subsidy or not. To be more specific, Dell should position the trialware as marketing (which is what they are) and give you a price break ($200 in my assumption) if you agree to accept a machine with all the trialware on it, or they can give you the machine clean of the marketing offers if you don’t accept the price break and decide to pay more. My neighbors’ $850 Dell would have been $1050 without all the trialware using those numbers. I bet they would have taken the price break — but at least they would have understood what they were doing and some of the implications. Yes, it’s probably a little counterintuitive at first (“pay more to get less?”), but I think people would figure it out pretty quickly. And yes, it’s not the most appealing solution for dig-in-your-heels idealists who want to rid the world of all marketing programs, but it certainly seems reasonable to me.

What’s wrong with this proposal? Tell me in the comments.

(One note: the reason I put “crapware” in quotes in the title is that not all of the software that comes with a new computer is actually “crap.” Before I arrived, my neighbors — who had no Internet access — had used the Earthlink offer to sign up with them and had successfully connected to the Internet. You can do a lot worse than Earthlink, and when I thought about it, how would an average person bootstrap themselves onto the net without such an offer anyway? So it’s not all bad from a functional standpoint — it’s just the delivery method that sucks.)

8 thoughts on “How Dell and others can fix the "crapware" problem — honorably

  1. If they don’t charge you extra for the install disks, then I’d take the discount and do a fresh install. I usually end up spending a good couple of hours updating all the drivers on store bought machines anyway.

  2. It’s kind of sad really, but I can tell you with a great deal of certainty that the simple, utopian answer you provide won’t, actually, work.

    The problem is that to get that $200 (or whatever) Dell had to agree that the digitial equivalent of the Chia Pet you got for Christmas is installed on every single machine they squirt out, possibly with an motivational bonus of a few grand if they pump out more delivered machines before a given date.

    I know this because having worked with sales puppies far too long and know how they generally structure contracts. Worse thing is that there’s probably dozens of sales folks working those negotiations with nobody looking at the final, ad-jammed result.

  3. A noble idea, Chad, but here’s why it wouldn’t fly: The whole user-facing premise of these offers is that they’re *added value.* The companies involved must steadfastly maintain that this raft of offers is actually a useful service to the purchaser of the computer, rather than the simple advertising that it actually is. To provide the point-of-sale transparency you propose exposes that premise as a lie and makes explicit exactly what the computer maker would prefer to hide — that it’s receiving cash to place those icons and offers there.

    Oh well. Hate to be so cynical but I think this is the reality right now.

  4. I agree with you, Scott. The more I thought about this one, the more I thought that I was being way too idealistic myself (perhaps a result of the fatigue in battling the Dell)! I don’t think there’s much room for nobility in this equation.

    I guess the only solution is to buy a PC from a small company without all these desktop distribution deals — but I fear that for the average consumer, that will be more intimidating than dealing with all the crapware. Oh well, indeed!

  5. I looked at the “crapware” on my mother’s machine and not only found AdWare, but Spyware that would have allowed unrestricted access to information….Lovely, ain’t it?

  6. Adware spyware uninstall is necessity due to the sheer volume of threats that are attached to our computers from everyday use. From surfing to free downloads, it does not take long before our computer performance is decreased and we are getting redirected to websites we did not request.

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