As Bad As Spyware

Spyware makes all of our lives miserable. It runs on our computers without us knowing it, transmits our personal information and makes our systems slow to a crawl. But how would you classify the countless other trial software programs that come preloaded with our computers or with aftermarket peripherals? Surely they are not as bad as Spyware, but they still can be a nuisance to a lot of us.

I was recently visiting my mother-in-law and she asked me to look at her computer and make sure she had everything she needed. She had just purchased a new computer from a major computer manufacturer and wanted to know which programs she should use for various tasks. The first thing I noticed upon booting up her system was that she had multiple programs installed that did the same thing. For example, Windows Media Player, Music Match, QuickTime, and RealPlayer were installed. All of these programs can play audio and video files. And every time they are opened they check to make sure they are the default program. So if you decide to open a QuickTime file, QuickTime will check to make sure it is the default program for all file types. And if you open a Real player file (which can only be played using Real player) it checks to make sure it?s the default program for all file type as well. Another kicker here is that a lot of these programs automatically check for updates using your internet connection. This can cause your system to run considerably slower than it should.

Of course my mother-in-law didn?t know any better and left all of these programs installed; in fact she even paid for two of the programs because she thought she needed to pay in order to use them. This is a very common mistake for computer novices, and it is a shame that these companies take advantage of consumers in this way.

But the problem is not isolated to preinstalled software that comes on a new computer. This can also happen with hardware and other consumer electronics that people purchase. A digital camera may come with four different photo viewing programs, all offering the bare essentials but wanting you to pay to upgrade the software to the full versions.

It was at this point that it occurred to me that there is a close resemblance between real spyware and the software that often comes preinstalled on various computers. In most cases, we do not want all of this software installed on our computer, and we are often tricked into thinking we need these programs in order to use the functions they serve. Spyware of course is a lot worse than the tactics that other software manufacturers try, but they both go along the same lines: trick the consumer into downloading or paying for their product.

I can understand that these companies are just trying to promote their products and generate revenue. This of course will never change. But their tactics need to change. As a major publication, Designtechnica will always be committed to recognizing these tricks and pointing them out to readers through our reviews. In our Sony A160 notebook review, we docked considerable points from Sony?s A160 notebook because Sony preinstalled excess software on this system. We will always commend a company for thinking about the user instead of their pocket books.

Another recommendation I would make is to turn off automatic updates on the non-essential software you have installed.  We do not need programs running in the background to check for updates on our printers, scanners, camera?s, etc. It is a waste of our precious CPU cycles. If you leave all of those programs running in the background, they will slow down your system considerably. But if you choose to go the route that I recommend, then you have a responsibility to upgrade these programs yourself, since the program is not checking automatically for you.

Is comparing Spyware to preinstalled trial software a little extreme? Probably, but I can tell you that they get me equally mad at times. And no matter how you look at it, they both try to trick us into using them.

Look for a guide from us in the near future which will show which programs we recommend you use for tasks such as listening to music, playing video files, copying CD?s and other popular and useful tasks.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.