What is bloatware, and how can I tackle it?

Bloatware is the scourge of modern computers, smartphones and tablets. Let's tackle it head-on!

Monday, 20 March, 2023

There’s an undeniable thrill to booting up a new computer or smartphone for the first time.

Untold promises await from a brand-new device sporting the latest operating system, lots of available storage and – in theory at least – no unwanted software.

In reality, things may be rather less untarnished.

After completing setup, users are commonly confronted with a suite of software pre-installed by the manufacturer.

Some programs, such as Microsoft 365 and Adobe Reader, are ubiquitous and often valuable. Others, typically those incorporating the hardware manufacturer’s name, may be less so.

This superfluous software is known as bloatware, or Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs). But what is bloatware used for, and why is it so contentious?

Sold a PUP

The more software a machine has installed onto it, the less space remains for personal files and folders, or additional programs.

A full hard drive may prematurely age a device as its processor has to work harder, its storage is more crowded, and its battery is placed under greater strain.

Every additional piece of software that autoloads on bootup, scans system resources or downloads its own updates will eat into available RAM, slowing down other operations.

Frustratingly, bloatware is usually installed with the manufacturer’s best interests at heart, rather than those of the user.

For instance, a smartphone might contain a preloaded app encouraging buyers to purchase accessories from the device’s manufacturer.

This is a classic example of upselling, but many consumers will reluctantly allow the PUPs to continue bombarding them with announcement pop-ups and deal notifications.

Bloatware is often protected against deletion, meaning it will occupy storage space throughout the device’s lifespan. You can disable it, but not erase it.

What is bloatware used for?

In the example above, bloatware is used to upsell proprietary products, and boost corporate profits.

Some third-party apps are installed because that company has paid the hardware manufacturer to bundle them in.

One expert has estimated software firms will pay $20 per device to have PUPs pre-installed, which becomes highly lucrative when scaled up globally and over time.

Examples might include social media apps, antivirus software or manufacturer sales utilities.

Certain apps will be installed on smartphones in the hope consumers also invest in compatible hardware such as Apple AirPods or a Samsung Smart Watch.

Is all bloatware unnecessary?

While it’s classed as unwanted by definition, some bloatware may still be beneficial.

We mentioned antivirus software a moment ago. If you’re purchasing your first Windows PC, a pre-installed AV utility may be of use if you don’t have a subscription already.

Dell laptops incorporate a handy SupportAssist utility which includes everything from troubleshooting and device history records to hardware scans and network optimisation.

A proprietary music player calibrated to optimise sound output on that specific machine might work better than a third-party app.

Trialware is another common form of bloatware, giving you up to 30 days free use of a particular software package to determine whether it might be advantageous.

How should I deal with bloatware?

The best way to tackle PUPs is pre-emptively.

When setting up a new phone, computer or tablet, browse the list of pre-installed software. On a Windows 11 PC, for instance, you’ll find it at Settings > Apps > Installed apps.

Are there any unexpected programs or applications listed, or tools you don’t recognise?

If you’re not a social media user, try to delete the Facebook app if it’ll let you. If you’re not into fitness, get rid of any health-branded apps which permit their own uninstallation.

It’s easier to spot bloatware before a hard drive becomes congested with your own software and files.

If you’re unsure whether a particular piece of computer software is valuable or necessary, pay a visit to the Should I Remove It website.

This lists everything from mainstream to obscure software packages under each developer’s name, describing their uses and showing the percentage of people who removed them.

Bear in mind that some bloatware will be buried deep inside your operating system, and even uninstalling or deleting it might not remove all its tentacles.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!