The Google Crapplet

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2007-05-25 Print this article Print

Opinion: Like DRM, pre-installed garbage on your OEM PC may be leaving such a bad taste in people's mouths that even money-hungry vendors will shy away from it.

Its SOP when you buy a new OEM PC: First, you install all the updates to Windows and Office since your system was built (not as big a problem as it used to be), then you delete all the garbage your OEM preloaded with Windows on your computer. This software, often called "crapware" or "crapplets" in the business, can be a real pain to users. They slow down new computers, make them unstable and can cause downright confusion.

Google has started its own security blog. Click here to read more.

Word is spreading about the latest development in crapware: An obscure software component on Dell PCs redirects certain browser operations to a special Google search page, one overflowing with ads. The component, officially called the "Browser Address Error Redirector," takes over on address bar typos and other errors and thus interferes with some other software that performs the same function more transparently.

Its getting hard enough these days to avoid the Google Toolbar, which is pushed on you by many other packages, including the Java runtime. But this is unrelated to the toolbar. OpenDNS, one of the companies whose software is impeded by the BAER, says that the program "borders on being spyware."

Crapware makes money for OEMs. You pay to get a copy of Microsoft Office on your computer, but almost everything else, from the 90-day trial of Norton Antivirus to the AOL client to the QuickBooks trial to the Sonic RecordNow software to the Yahoo! Music Jukebox is on there because the software company paid the OEM to put it there. It goes further: Lets say you "convert" that copy of Norton Antivirus and buy the full subscription: the OEM gets a cut for that, too.

In this case, Google is probably paying Dell to put this software on the PC, but they are also probably getting a cut of the ad revenue, which gives them both a good incentive to overload the upper part of the page with advertising.

So crapware isnt in there to do you a favor, its in there to make money for the OEM. Yes, they have an interest in you having a high-performing and stable PC, just as they have an interest in world peace, but its a viciously competitive business and they need whatever revenues they can get.

Next page: Hope for the future

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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