Former Secretary Of State Powell Confused By Security Bloatware

Powell recently bought a netbook, and one of the first things he noticed were the pop-up warnings from the McAfee security software trial that had been pre-loaded on the machine. It took a while for Powell to realize that he was simply dealing with bloatware, one of security vendors' favorite sledgehammers for selling products.

"Almost every day, a message popped up saying 'You're in danger'," Powell told about 1,500 McAfee partners Wednesday in a keynote address at McAfee Focus '09 conference in Las Vegas.

Pre-loaded bloatware has long been a source of irritation for consumers. The term 'bloatware' has also been applied to antivirus software whose code base has grown so large and complex that it slows down the PC it's supposed to protect. While both types of bloatware cause headaches for customers, the first kind is a problem that's arguably tougher to solve.

It's easy to blame PC OEMs for the practice of installing bloatware, but vendors are just as much to blame, perhaps even more so for their tendency to make bloatware notifications as obtrusive as possible. In the security business, every vendor likes to say they don't use fear as a marketing tactic, but the abundance of evidence to the contrary suggests otherwise.

Sponsored post

After reaching a peak a few years ago, bloatware has eased somewhat, as vendors apparently have realized that intentionally irritating customers might not be the best way to get them to buy their products. Still, bloatware is as common on new PCs as flies at a barbeque, and McAfee isn't the only security vendor that uses it.

Earlier this year while testing a couple of netbooks, the CRN Test Center ran into activation prompts for Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2009, which had been pre-loaded on the PCs. The prompts were unique in that they made it difficult for users to "X out" of the application, and instead steered them to activating the free trial or buying the product.

Symantec later said it would curtail the practice, but that's not to say another vendor won't decide to take bloatware a step further by having the opt-out button dance around the screen with a bunch of animated chipmunks. If that does come to pass, the collective tolerance of bloatware that consumers have had will become even harder to find than the elusive opt-out link.