Bloatware top 5 – And how to clean your Windows

Bloatware is becoming more and more of a problem for Windows users. Some, often very useful, software will install so much rubbish on your PC that it becomes harder to use, or even downright slow. Inexperienced users will often find their computers unusable because companies bundle too much addition software, or add too many features into their product. I’ll count down some of the worst examples, starting with the absolute king of the hill…

1. Nero Burning ROM

The system requirements for Nero specify that you’ll need 1.2 GB (yes, gigabytes) to install version 8 of Ahead’s DVD burning software. A full install will add 25 programs to your system, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with burning optical discs. Most of these programs are of a decent quality, but there’s just too many of them, and if you simply ‘OK’ your way through the install, you’ll end up with all of them.

If that happens to you, you’ll find that with pretty much every file you double-click, a Nero tool will start, instead of the software you were using to view or edit that specific type of file.

My suggestion? Try CDBurnerXP or ImgBurn. Chances are these free 3 and 2 MB downloads will do everything you expect from DVD burning software.

2. Apple QuickTime

I guess Apple is trying to get Windows users to ‘switch’ by showcasing their applications’ sometimes-superior usability. They’re just going about it all wrong. If you don’t watch out, the QuickTime video player install will also set up iTunes. The Windows versions of both are sluggish and instable, but nonetheless, they will set themselves up to handle pretty much all types of media, if you do not specify otherwise. As if I want to wait for half a minute when I double-click a PNG image or an mp3.

My suggestion: Either try QTlite, or go through every settings panel you come across during installation, and be sure to kill the system tray icon afterwards. You’ll also have to remove icons from the desktop and the quick launch. Way to go Apple!

3. Hardware drivers

I got a new mouse a little while ago. It’s got a few extra buttons, so it came with a software tool that lets you assign these, and do a few other things. This 60(!) megabyte download (which I consider to be humongous) will also ask to install an application that will push notifications from Logitech to your screen. In other words, I’ll have a system tray icon that notifies me if there’s a new driver, or a new product, or whatever it is Logitech has on its mind. No thank you. I like my mouse, but it works. I don’t need the newest driver all the time, and certainly not at the expense of system resources that could be used by the programs I’m clicking my way through with my new cordless little Logitech critter.

Other drivers, like those for video cards have also turned into huge applications with colorfully skinned interfaces and a plethora of semi-useful features.

My suggestion: There’s really very little you can do about this, but it doesn’t hurt to go through the advanced install procedure and deselect anything you won’t be needing.

4. ICQ, MSN, etc

In my opinion, instant messaging applications should be lightweight, clutter free and easy to use. All the main players in the field have let their applications become decorated like Christmas trees with all sorts of silly features. A notable exception is Google’s ‘Talk’, but only some of my buddies use it.

My suggestion: Use Miranda, it replaces all of them, and is truly tiny and extremely flexible. A marvel.

5. Photoshop Elements

A few years ago, Photoshop’s little brother was well on its way to becoming a feasible alternative for the full version of Adobe’s photo editor. It lacked a few features, but the user interface looked familiar, and it was snappy to use. My wife now has a trial version of the latest ‘Elements’ installed, and it’s terrible. It’ll launch itself the minute you even think about clicking an image file. It’ll then take minutes to load, only to present you with a terrible, non-Windows looking user interface.

The ‘skin’ wouldn’t be as bad if it wasn’t so very very slow. I get the impression that somewhere underneath all that gray there’s a copy of CS3 running. A 2 GHz machine with 1.5 GB of RAM should be able to run a consumer oriented software program, but Adobe manages to let it come to a grinding halt.

My suggestion: Get an older version, perhaps even of Elements’ bigger brother. Or use Irfanview and Picasa. The two combined will let you manage, (somewhat) edit and even batch-convert your images for free, and at full speed.

Roy | August 25, 2008 | English,Software | Comments (13)
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  1. Yes, when I was still a Windows user, Nero actually caused MAJOR problems for me over the years. The problems varied from continuously hijacking file types to actually killing my CDROM drive (this was admittedly over 10 years ago… but still).

    Comment by suzero — August 31, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

  2. I guess it’s quite befitting that it’s called ‘Nero’. It’s the most megalomaniac peace of software I’ve ever come across. Why else would it believe itself to be a better photo editor than Photoshop? I know the name comes from the fact that ‘Rom’ means ‘Rome’ in German, but this is a far better explanation for it.

    Comment by Roy — August 31, 2008 @ 7:55 pm

  3. That’s why I left the windows world to get myself on a Mac :o)

    Comment by Gov — September 1, 2008 @ 10:49 am

  4. I actually thought about including Windows itself into this top 5. It feels bloated, but then I couldn’t really find much I don’t use at all. There’s a few services I could do without, and I don’t use the email client, but other than that…

    On average I think mac software is less bloated, but since there’s such an abundance of Windows programs, I find there’s a lightweight alternative for everything. Miranda is the best example of just how good some of these alternatives can be. Adium has nothing on it imho.

    Funny thing is that Windows users, at least on average, seem to like bloated software. How else could one justify Nero’s continuing dominance in a field where every competing program does exactly the same thing?

    Comment by Roy — September 1, 2008 @ 11:24 am

  5. I don’t think Windows user LIKE bloatware, I think they’re blissfully ignorant of it. Buy any Windows PC/laptop and it’ll be crammed full of useless promotional (demo) software junking everything up before you’ve even set up your user account. They don’t know what a sleek, clean machine even looks like!

    Comment by suzero — September 3, 2008 @ 10:53 am

  6. I can relate to the awful bloatware that often installs additional to the primary application. I have noticed that like Nero, some Adobe products also try to push their software.

    The way I deal with this is to always choose “custom” install method. Not the normal, recommended or full installtion they normally default at. Moral of the story is…. don’t just keep hitting return or next button. Custom install every time.

    Thanks for the link to ImgBurn. Just downloaded it and installed. That will do me find the next time I need to burn an image to CD/DVD.

    Just a little tip: Always keep an eye on your startup programs. The only two programs I set to run when logging in to Vista are Avira Anti-virus and Windows Defender. No other programs startup with entering windows.

    To clear startup programs: Start > Run > Type “msconfig” and select the far right tab “Startup” and check the boxes that you need to start with windows and clear the boxes that you don’t need.

    The msconfig is a system configuration utility which is perfectly safe to use. This will not only speed up the boot times, it makes your operating system run slightly faster due to less programs running in the background.

    Now why not finish up with a defragment of your hard-drive. Hope this is of help.


    Comment by Mark Bartlett — February 8, 2009 @ 2:37 am

    • Hi Mark. Power users like us will probably be able to keep their systems relatively clean with tips like the ones you offer. But what about novice users. If my parents would install Nero, they’d be on the phone asking me why images no longer open in the default viewer, etc. That’s what bugs me about this. It makes Windows much harder to use than it should be. Novice users are probably better off using Ubuntu simply because of the way Linux handles software installs.

      Comment by Roy — February 10, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

  7. My previous comment with instructions for entering Windows system configuration utility are for Windows XP.

    For Windows Vista: Start > Type “msconfig” in the search bar at the bottom of the start menu.

    That’s all for now. Sorry for rambling on….lol.

    Comment by Mark Bartlett — February 8, 2009 @ 2:41 am

  8. I’m still using Nero 6 Ultra and don’t plan on upgrading (ever) unless I am left with no choice (though I will check out the two programs you linked to.) Also, for multi-protocol chat clients I’m currently using Digsby, which does a better job than Trillian. I’ll give Miranda a look-see.

    Just fyi, Digsby occupies about 25 megs of ram on my XP machine, which isn’t terrible.

    Comment by Dujenwook — March 8, 2009 @ 6:50 am

  9. I’m really happy to hear voices of dissent about the general trend for software companies to create ever heavier and slower versions of their applications.

    Whatever happened to the sacred tenet of software design of efficiency and functionality? It would seem that this basic principle, that used to be taught when I studied computer science in the early 70s, has been completely forgotten!

    Do software designers really believe it’s important to create more and more dumbed-down interfaces that actually prevent users from accessing basic functionalities? Do they truly believe the average user is an idiot? Why so much insistence on packaging and so little about actual functionality?

    Worse, why do ALL major software companies seem to be following this trend? Nero, which has been severely decried here, with good reason, used to be much, much smaller and efficient that it is now. Try 5MB for a full version of the program, while at the time, its arch rival Adaptec Easy CD Creator (remember that name? :D) used to take 5 times more, had lesser functionality and was on its way of becoming bloatware…

    I still have a Windows 98 computer, simply because it works, and very, very well, thank you! The laptop I am using now unfortunately came with Vista and I have had to work very hard to get rid of the bloatware and to coax it to run older versions of software. Even for a power user, it is difficult, as Vista’s Big Brother ways are always in the way, preventing you to do things ‘for your own good’.

    For example: Adobe Acrobat. The version I have on my Windows 98 machine (Acrobat 5) does EVERYTHING I need in a document, and I challenge anyone to list a must have feature in the bloated versions running under Vista. I REFUSE to even try the newer version. Are they nuts? Several HUNDRED MEGABYTES? Have programmers forgotten how to write efficient software? For the past few days I’ve been trying to install Acrobat 5 (approximately 50MB, which is already too large IMO), which does EVERYTHING on my windows 98 machine: create PDFs from my documents and grab websites for offline downloading, with fully functional links. If that doesn’t work, I’ll probably be switching to an independent such as Foxit PDF Writer, which does all the essential stuff in a… 1.5MB download!!! OK, it doesn’t have everything and it’s still buggy, but you have to and it that starting from a 1.5MB core, there is much greater potential for it to become stable and efficient while still remaining small and… I forgot to mention… FAST!

    And what about Adobe Photoshop… Who, in their right mind, would want tio use such a monster? I am using Mediachance Photobrush and I would say the only thing a power user would wish for is layers. But at 1/100 the size of Photoshop, I can live without!!!

    I could go on and on… I refuse to use Microsoft Outlook (I use The Bat), I refuse to use Windows Explorer (unless absolutely necessary), I use Norton File Manager (yes, you can make it work under Vista!!!) and Total Commander, I still use TopDraw, at 1.5MB (including clipart!!!), still the most powerful vector drawing application, designed for… Windows 3.1 and adapted to Windows 95 (!!!), and many other, more obscure programs that do stuff in a fraction of the size at many order of magnitudes of the speed of their mainstream versions.

    In conclusion, it is still possible to get small, fast, efficient software that works for the user instead of for the software conglomerate giant that published it, but it has frankly become an uphill battle. With Microsoft leading the way with its more and more controlling ways, it is truly a challenge to do stuff in an efficient manner, but don’t despair, there is small but hard core of people like myself who simply refuse to go with the flow, who will find ways to keep these older, faster versions of software running, and there are sites dedicated to that and other brilliant but abandonned software. Just google “old versions” and “abandonware”… You are not alone :)

    Comment by Chris — April 8, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

  10. I’d have to disagree that the non-elements version of Photoshop is bloated. It’s simply a powerhouse. A very heavy program for very heavy work. There are tons of features beyond layers that professional designers use every day. Its efficient in the way a jumbo jet is efficient.

    And I wouldn’t want to use Windows 98 any more either, because even getting USB to work can be a pain. Wifi through 3rd party apps only, unicode support missing, etc, etc. Plenty of additions to software are simply caused by technological innovations. It’s only natural for Vista to be bigger than ’98.

    I guess that things go wrong when things are basically ‘feature complete’ (your Acrobat reader example is a good one), or when software companies simply want their list of features to be longer than that of the competitor. Features for the sake of features.

    And then there’s eye candy. Most ot the people out there probably like big, shiny, non-windows buttons in their applications. Any application sporting a dull grey Windows look will have hard competing with shinier counterparts.

    Comment by Roy — April 8, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

  11. I don’t want to get into an argument with you for the sake of it, but I must disagree about Photoshop, at least as someone who uses photography as a tool in his daily work, during which he must capture hundreds of technically acceptable building pictures under less than ideal conditions and produce images effectively and economically in very short order.

    Photoshop is slow to start, frustrating to use, doesn’t do half of what I require and can do fast and very easily with other, much smaller programs. Instead of this hog, I use PTLens (standalone) for automatic geometric lens distortion correction, Colour Science Image Editor for automatic dynamic range enhancement, Photobrush for perspective correction and Thumbs Plus for any tweaking that may be required after that. After that I can easily restore my original picture taking data using Exifer.

    Under normal conditions, I can process up to one hundred pictures per hour using these small, inexpensive and sometimes free programs. Try to do it all in Photoshop! It may be a powerhouse for some, but in fact it’s just a jack-of-all-trades suffering from creeping featuritis. Just my opinion based on personal experience…

    I’m also pleased to announce that, after less than a week working with it, Foxit PDF Writer has effectively displaced Adobe Acrobat from its throne in my system both in size (1.5MB versus Acrobat 5′w 50+ and 7′s 200+), execution speed (10x as fast) and resulting file size efficiency (4 times as small with same image quality!). On top of that it took me only days to master its settings from scratch, whereas it took me weeks to do the same with Acrobat.

    As for windows 98, I agree with you about difficulty with hardware setup. If vendors weren’t forced by Microsoft’s omnipotent market hegemony to produce drivers for their more bloated OSes, we’d still be running Win98SE (or Win2K). The only reason to like the new fancy Oses, IMO, are the drivers written for newer hardware, nothing more. And about the interface… Let’s just not get into the style VS functionality debate ;)

    Thank you for your kind response and for letting us comment on this hot issue:)

    Best Regards,
    Chris in the Great White North (Still!)

    Comment by Chris — April 9, 2009 @ 11:18 pm

  12. That’s been at least 5 years that I use CDBurnerXP and I recommend it for everybody : it’s free and easy to use.
    Whick software do you recommand to clean you computer ?
    I use CCleaner, Glary Utilities and Revo Uninstaller but I don’t think it’s enough…

    Comment by Kevin — June 8, 2012 @ 9:41 am