Digital glitz

My mom’s old computer click-of-death‘ed a few days ago. I ordered her a new Inspiron, which arrived yesterday, and today I drove up to A Coruña to set it up at her place. As usual, I was positively surprised at the quality of Dell’s packaging and overall engineering of the out-of-the-box experience. I set up the 17-inch widescreen flat panel display, the 3-GB RAM, 200-GB HD mini-tower machine, hooked everything up, and in 15 minutes all was running smoothly. Not a bad deal for just 575 €, I thought.

The disappointment came once Vista configured itself and let us in. Ohmygod, what is that ugly thing on the desktop? You know, I have been using Vista for some time now, and I like it. Yes. I like it. I like its behaviour and I like its looks. What? No, I am not embarrassed of saying this in public. I know, some people are. Anyway, I digress. There was that really ugly thing on the desktop, like a huge horizontal toolbar across the top, holding a few large blackish icons. Also, something similar to Vista’s SideBar could be seen, well, down the right edge of the screen, where the SideBar usually appears, only that this thing was not the SideBar but something horrible. It looked more or less like the SideBar, i.e. it was a container-like area where large applets where docked. But it was oh-so-ugly. Not ugly. It was the most unstylish, tacky and trashy Windows application I’ve seen since the days of Visual Basic 5.

To make things worse (or more interesting, depending on your views), I realised that some McAfee thingy was also running since a menacing “M” was winking at me from the notification area on the taskbar. I am a survivor of McAfee products. I used to be a proud user of them, until one day I admitted that my relationship to them was a vampiric one; they were sucking my blood, stealing my CPU cycles, bombarding me with adware for products I didn’t want, and making tasks that should be as low-profile and lightweight as possible a cumbersome and exasperating chore. So I filed for divorce and McAfee left my life forever. I am happily married to Windows Live OneCare now.

So. Mom’s computer. Uninstall time.

Okay. The McAfee thingy was the first to fall. I had to sign in blood and swear to several gods that I was sure I wanted to completely remove all McAfee products from the machine. I rebooted. Phew.

After a few minutes of research, I discovered that the ugly toolbar across the top of the screen was Dell’s own dock bar (or something like that), which fell next. I love uninstalling crap like this. Then was the turn of Google Desktop, the culprit of that bizarre caricature of the SideBar that I described above. With it fell the Goolge toolbar for Internet Explorer, another piece of digital bad taste.

After all this uninstal fury, mom’s computer and I felt happier. Sipping a chilled coke, I asked myself: why do computer manufacturers like Dell ship such big amounts of pre-installed digital glitz on low-cost machines? A 575 € computer is likely to be bought by non-technical grannies like my mom who want a simple-to-use computer for email and web browsing. They want simple stuff. They don’t need the four extra apps that I uninstalled. Look at it from this point of view:

  • The McAfee anti-malware thing was just a 30-day demo that takes a lot of CPU cycles, uses a highly complex user interface with dozens of buttons that only a knowledgeable person would understand and continuously prompts the user to take actions. This is not the kind of tool that my mom (or a similar user) needs. Keeping a computer virus-free should be something that a tool does silently and with as little user intervention as possible. Windows Live OneCare has not ever prompted me regarding its anti-virus service since I set it up months ago.
  • The Dell dock thing is totally superfluous. Vista’s desktop, SideBar and taskbar more than make it completely redundant. C’mon, Dell, can’t you come up with something a bit more innovative?
  • The Google toolbar was okay before Internet Explorer 7 and for internet-savvy users. And it was ugly. With IE 7 it is redundant. And it’s still ugly. Who would want it? And why?
  • And the Google Desktop must be a joke. I can’t think of even a remotely meaningful reason why anybody would want to install Vista, disable a core component of its user interface such as the SideBar, and install a tasteless replacement.

Oh well. This reminds me of a similar case, a few months ago. A friend asked me to take a look at his high-end laptop, a newish Lenovo which, according to his feelings, was sluggish. I did a quick check and uh-oh, six or seven processes were running, and taking a decent amount of CPU time and memory resources, which had been pre-installed by the manufacturer. My friend, the laptop owner, had no idea what these apps were for.

So much crap these days.

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