Pre-installed software (also known as bundled software) is software already installed and licensed on a computer or smartphone bought from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM). The operating system is usually pre-installed, but because it is a general requirement, this term is used for additional software apart from the bare necessary amount, usually from other sources (or the operating system vendor).
Unwanted pre-installed software (also known as crapware or bloatware) can include major security vulnerabilities, like Superfish, which installs a root certificate to inject advertising into encrypted Google search pages, but leaves computers vulnerable to serious cyberattacks that breach the security used in banking and finance websites.
Some free download websites use unwanted software bundling that similarly installs unwanted software.
Often new PCs come with pre-installed software which the manufacturer was paid to include but is of dubious value to the purchaser. Most of these programs are included without the user's knowledge, and have no instructions on how to opt-out or remove them.
A Microsoft executive mentioned that within the company these applications were dubbed craplets (a portmanteau of crap and applet). He was saying that the experience of people buying a new Windows computer can be damaged by poorly designed, uncertified third-party applications installed by vendors. He stated that the antitrust case against Microsoft prevented the company from stopping the pre-installation of these programs by OEMs. Walt Mossberg, technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, condemned "craplets" in two columns published in April 2007, and suggested several possible strategies for removing them.
The bundling of these unwanted applications is often performed in exchange for financial compensation, paid to the OEM by the application's publisher. At the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, Dell defended this practice, stating that it keeps costs down, and implying that systems might cost significantly more to the end user if these programs were not pre-installed. Some system vendors and retailers will offer, for an additional charge, to remove unwanted pre-installed software from a newly purchased computer; retailers, in particular, will tout this service as a "performance improvement." In 2008, Sony Corporation announced a plan to charge end users US$50 for the service; Sony subsequently decided to drop the charge for this service and offer it for free after many users expressed outrage. Microsoft Store similarly offers a range of "Signature Edition" computers sold in a similar state, as well as extended warranty and support packages through Microsoft.
The practice is not limited to personal computers; mobile phones typically come with pre-loaded software provided by its manufacturer or service provider; similarly to their PC equivalents, they are sometimes tied to account management or other premium services offered by the provider. The practice was extended to smartphones via Android devices, as carriers often bundle apps provided by themselves and third-party developers with the device and, furthermore, install them into the System partition, making it so that they cannot be completely removed from the device without performing unsupported modifications to its firmware. Some of these apps may run in the background, consuming battery life, and may also duplicate functionality already provided by the phone itself; for example, Verizon Wireless has bundled phones with a redundant text messaging app known as "Messages+" (which is set as the default text messaging program in lieu of the stock messaging app included within the OS), and VZ Navigator (a subscription service redundant to the free Google Maps service).
Android 4.0 attempted to address these issues by allowing users to "disable" apps—which hides them from application menus and prevents them from running. However, this does not remove the software from the device entirely, and they still consume storage unless they are removed via unsupported modifications. In April 2014, South Korea implemented new regulatory guidelines for the mobile phone industry, requiring non-essential apps bundled on a smartphone to be user-removable. Android 5.0 allows carrier-bundled apps to be installed directly from Google Play Store during initial device setup, which install in the same way as user-downloaded apps and can be uninstalled normally.
Apple has also faced criticism on recent versions of iOS for including an increasing number of non-removable apps, such as Apple Watch and Apple Music, the latter consuming space through a large cache of streamed music.
Wanted pre-installed software
Pre-installed software commonly suffers from one or more of the following problems:
- It is usually licensed for use only on the computer on which it was pre-installed, and is not transferable to other computers.
- Its functionality is often time limited in an effort to get the user to purchase the "full" version.
- It often does not come with any media, should the user need to reinstall it.
- It sometimes modifies or replaces the default browser or system settings, in an effort to target specific advertisements to the user; or may otherwise contain functionality the user might consider to be malware.
- It often consumes system resources, even if not actively being run by the user, adversely affecting system responsiveness and startup time.
- It is sometimes difficult or impossible for users to remove, such as via the standard uninstall utility provided by the system.
- Its purpose may be to install further unwanted programs without permission, or re-install them after the user successfully gets rid of them.
- It may consume bandwidth which a phone company can charge for (especially on a phone device), yet not let the user know they are being cheated of some of their bandwidth. This may be a side effect of analytics or music downloads single unwanted apps are sending, but installing several dozen of these unwanted apps can drive the bandwidth costs up for a segment of users which wouldn't have happened without the unknown, uninstallable, unwanted apps.
- Fisher, Ken (2007-01-11). "$60 to keep crapware off of a Windows PC?". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
- "Pre-installed on a new computer", a Microsoft article
- Melanie Pinola (November 21, 2012). "Here's all the crapware that comes with new Windows 8 PCs". IT World. Retrieved 2013-01-24.
- Justin James (December 5, 2012). "Five apps for crapware cleanup". TechRepublic. Retrieved 2013-01-24.
- Jared Newman (Jan 15, 2013). "Lucrative Windows crapware market is exactly why we need app stores". PCWorld. Retrieved 2013-01-24.
- Rob Beschizza (2008-03-21). "Breaking: Sony won't charge $50 to remove bloatware". Wired. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
- "Bloatware Creeps Into Android Phones". Wired. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
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- Mossberg, Walter S. (2007-04-05). "Using Even New PCs Is Ruined by a Tangle of Trial Programs, Ads". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
- Mossberg, Walter S. (2007-04-12). "Ways You Can Avoid Getting Junk Programs on Your New Computer". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
- "Microsoft's Signature Edition laptops deliver the 'clean PC' experience you really want". PC World. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
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- "Want to protect your Android phone? Here's how to kill its crapware". IT World. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
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- "Transcript: Ars talks to Android execs about Lollipop and the Nexuses". Ars Technica. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
- "Apple Music's Worst Feature? You Can't Delete It". Wired. Retrieved 27 July 2015.