Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Crapware as a Marketing Strategy

I remain unconvinced that crapware is a good marketing strategy. Yes it's not a polite term but it's appropriate and yes, its the generally accepted term.

Crapware is software installed either by the manufacturer of your hardware or by some other program, generally with your consent. However, "consent" is used here in the same way "I DO" is used in shotgun wedding. Some examples are: AOL preinstalled on machines. Quicktime being forced on users who download iTunes, the Yahoo! Toolbar installed with Acrobat Reader and my latest surprise, the Google Toolbar trying to install with a Java update. While these items aren't technically spyware, they create some of the same issues. They hog resources. They install on startup and slow reboots. They attach to the toolbar and stay resident for faster opening. They eat RAM. They conflict with each other. I'm tempted to install every toolbar known and show that if you do that, there's no actual room for browsing.

This behavior comes back to two things money and fear. Money first. Google paid Dell to get the Google toolbar installed on new machines. AOL does the same thing. I'm sure Yahoo! paid Adobe. The problem is that Dell, HP, Adobe, etc. are essentially selling the trust they have with their customers. It's good for the shareholders in the short run but it may be impossible to get that trust back. Anyone remember Packard Bell? As for the companies whose software is being installedl? Any trust they had is gone.

Ok, we can agree that most computer manufacturers have sold their soul. Why do software companies feel compelled to push their software this way? I think its fear. Fear that Microsoft's prebundled software is "good enough" for most people. Fear that many computer users are inept and would never download their apps. Fear that competitors have better marketing and will beat them to the punch. There may even be a little arrogance. The feeling that many users are too dumb to remove it once it's there. Bottom line, they don't trust you and they don't trust themselves to get the product on to your machine without resorting to these tactics.

But what happens in the real world? Corporate users won't put up with it. Large volume corporate buyers demand and get whatever they want on a machine and nothing else. Power users uninstall or reformat as soon as they get a machine. It ticks them off. Novice users often ask power users for opinions before buying and help with the install. What happens? The Power Users recommend cleaner machines and help novices remove the crud. Even better, when the novice's computer slows to a crawl and a power user's first step is to remove the crap, the novice learned an important lesson. AOL is tanking despite, or perhaps because of, all the crapware they've installed over the years. The strategy doesn't seem to have worked for them. I've ripped AOL of 30 or 40 machines alone. As a strategy, using crapware is negative marketing. It's sleay, used car sales sleazy. It's like spam and junk mail and telemarketing calls. I can sign up to block junk mail, block telemarking calls and use filters to stop spam. We have anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-spam tools. Now we have the Dell De-Crapifier. What's next, a whole category of anti-crapware tools?

Crapware abuses customers. Again I have to give credit to Samsung. The only thing I removed from the Q1 was the 90 day trial of Norton AV. Thanks Samsung. I don't think these companies are aware enough of the issues. It will only become painfully obvious when a competitor stops including junk and makes that part of their marketing plan.

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