Windows PCs are notoriously junk-filled out-of-the-box. Buy a Microsoft Signature PC from a Microsoft Store (yes, Microsoft has a handful of stores across the US) and you’ll find it free of the usual junk. Soon, Microsoft will offer to turn any PC into a Microsoft Signature PC with its “Signature Upgrade” service – as long as you pay $99.
A typical PC might come with a pile of additional desktop shortcuts, system tray applications, and other bloatware. Software developers pay computer manufacturers to preload their software, reducing the price of the computer by a few dollars. Microsoft realizes that this makes Windows look bad and their response is Microsoft Signature, a fancy name for PCs without the junk. But there are steps you can take yourself that will save you from paying that $99.
Option 1: Reinstall Windows
If you have a Windows disc – or your computer manufacturer offers a clean, Windows-only restore option – you can reinstall Windows from scratch. All the virtual clutter that came with your computer will be wiped away – as will your personal files, so back up first.
After you reinstall Windows, you can download the appropriate drivers for your computer from your manufacturer’s website. If your computer came with a driver disc, you can use that instead. While you’ll probably need some drivers and perhaps a handful of utilities, you won’t require anywhere near as much junk as you get by default.
Option 2: Uninstall Junk
Unfortunately, many computer manufacturers don’t allow you to perform a Windows-only restore – their restore partitions force you to restore their Windows image, which has all their junk on it. Your only recourse will be to uninstall the junk.
Fire up the Control Panel and get to uninstalling that virtual clutter. Be smart about what you uninstall – keep the graphics drivers and other important software. But uninstall the trials for applications you’ll never use, useless manufacturer-provided utilities, and all sorts of other junk. If you really need it, you can probably redownload it from the manufacturer’s website.
If you’re not sure about an application, try Googling its name and seeing what other users say. Much of the time, other users have written up guides that explain what the applications included with your computer do and whether or not you can uninstall them.
You can also try PC Decrapifier, an application that helps automate this.
Install Additional Software
The Microsoft Signature program doesn’t just remove manufacturer-provided junk. It adds Microsoft’s own software to the PC – different people will have different opinions on whether this software is necessary or just additional junk. These are the applications Microsoft advertises as included, most of which are available for free online:
Microsoft Security Essentials – Unlike the typical antivirus software that comes with a new computer, Microsoft Security Essentials doesn’t bombard you with requests for money; it’s completely free. It runs in the background and does its job without bothering you. If you’d rather use another antivirus application, there are other free antivirus applications you can download.
Windows Live Essentials – Includes Windows Live Mail, Family Safety, Writer, Mesh, Messenger, Movie Maker, and Photo Gallery. You can select the applications you want when installing it.
Internet Explorer 9 – Windows 7 will upgrade to Internet Explorer 9 via Windows Update, anyway.
Office Starter – You can’t actually download and install Office Starter yourself. But you probably wouldn’t want to, anyway – Office Starter includes only Word and Excel, and each program contains advertisements that bother you while you try to work. Instead, you can install a 60-day trial of the full Microsoft Office suite, install a free desktop Office suite, or use a cloud-based solution like Google Docs. Or you can buy Office and install it – Microsoft even sells digital copies of Office online.
If you’ve followed this guide, you now have a pretty close approximation of the Microsoft Signature PC experience. You don’t get free support for the first 90 days, but all you need is a search engine to provide your own support.
What do you think of Microsoft’s plans to charge $99 to remove bloatware from PCs? Leave a comment and let us know.