Bloatware is everywhere these days. The term can be interpreted and defined it slightly different ways, but the bottom line is that it's software that has gotten much bigger than it originally started out as and usually refers to software that is included for "free" when you purchase a computer or, more recently, a cellphone. It is software that in many cases is unwanted or unsolicited.
It's hard to track down just exactly where this phenomenon got started, but I remember back in the days of Windows 98 when companies started bundling computers with value CD-ROM's full of programs. At first, it seemed a real win for the consumers. You buy a computer from "Brand X" and you get thousands of dollars of free software included with the computer. For the software companies it was a win because they were paid small amounts (often as low as 25 cents to $1) per program for software that was from their older catalogue but they sold it in high quantities being bundled with every single computer the company sold.
The software was optional for consumers to install so if you didn't want an encyclopedia of Zoo animals on your computer for example you didn't need to install it. As the popularity of CD-ROM's started to decline and hard drive sizes kept increasing, manufacturers shifted to preinstalling this software on the computer without the media discs, meaning that consumers would no longer have a choice as to whether it appeared on their computer and were now required to delete it.
It also helped bring the overall costs of computers down slightly, as software manufacturers no longer collected a royalty for their software but rather were charged a small amount to be included and provided consumers "trial" versions of software that they would eventually have to pay for to unlock. Again, it seemed liked a win-win but now it certainly did not seem to favour the consumer.
Bundling unwanted software with computers has been the subject of many legal cases. In Europe in 2009, Microsoft was ordered to allow consumers a choice of web browsers because lawmakers there felt it was unfair that Microsoft only bundles their Internet Explorer browser with the operating system making some users feel like they do not have a choice.
As tablets and cellphones have taken over in many cases as replacements for the desktop computer, bloatware has made its way to these devices as well. In response to this, the Ministry responsible for cellphones in South Korea has ruled that phone bloatware must be deletable from all phones sold in that country.
To get an idea how bad it has got, Samsung's Galaxy S4, released by SK Telecom in that country, has 80 preinstalled apps included. While some users may see this as great value, others have concerns. These applications take up the free space available on the phone (where users store their photos, videos and apps) and the end result for available space is quite surprising.
According to a recent Gizmodo study, the iPhone 5C gives you the most available user space at 12.6 GB free on a 16 GB phone (taking up over 21%) and the Samsung Galaxy S4 leaves only 8.56 GB free in the same 16 GB space (eating up a whopping 46.5% of your space). Other phone makers fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. In most cases, the worst part of this whole scenario is that you are not able to delete the apps you don't want.
For phone makers it can present some significant changes and even questions "what is considered an app?" Siri for example, on the iPhone, is an intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator app that is woven throughout the operating system. Allow the user to remove it would result in significant engineering changes on Apple's part, so where do you draw the line?
Syd Bolton is the curator of the Personal Computer Museum and the manager of Information Technology at ACIC/Methapharm. You can reach him via-email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail care of The Brantford Expositor.