Thanks to the recent Lenovo debacle, more of the consumer industry has become aware of the unwanted applications that come preinstalled on almost every available PC. This is not a new thing, by any means. Who remembers when it started exactly? In the early days, the software would come in the box on CDs and you could install them if you wanted. I think that's where most of the AOL CDs ended up. But, somewhere along the line, manufacturers started preinstalling those applications. At first, it was in the form of desktop shortcuts. The installation bits were included on the PC hard drive, and when you clicked on the desktop shortcut the application would allow you to opt-in to install or opt-out to have it removed. Then, the situation took a sharp spiral downward and manufacturers would just go ahead and build the PCs with images that already included the application installed. Even the recovery CDs (and later just recovery partitions on the hard drive) had the applications embedded, so that if you ever needed to restore a clean PC due to problems, those applications would reappear. So, in reality, customers never got a truly clean Windows experience. There are very few that have ever experienced a completely clean Windows environment – and that's sad. Crapware is one of the primary reasons why Windows gets a bum rap. Eliminate the crap and Windows runs great. It runs like Microsoft intended.

I've read, even recently, articles outlining how to walk through long processes to take a PC that contains crapware, wipe it clean, and then install a pristine copy of Windows. That's admirable. But, that doesn't work for the majority of people that use Windows. I would never (ever) hand those instructions to my Mom. I can do it, but I can't honestly say I know anyone in my family that could do it successfully.

Whenever I've acquired a new PC over the years, I spent the first few hours removing the crap I didn't want. But, most people don't do that. They unbox, make connections, power on, and if Facebook loads, the task is done. They see those strange applications, but just believe they are part of the system they bought and should be left alone. Plus, manufacturers make it ridiculously difficult to remove them and most consumers aren't comfortable enough digging through Windows to figure out what's good to keep and what's not.

Like I said, this is not a new situation. This type of manufacturer villainy has been happening for years. Lenovo, which actually makes great hardware, has become the poster child for "what not to do," though almost every manufacturer is guilty. So what does a normal PC user do to obtain a superbly performing PC that is free of crap?

There are three options that I'm familiar with and have used at some point in time during my PC life. They can be used to eliminate known crapware from PCs, and help create that perfect computing environment. Before you dig into a long, laborious process of wiping a PC and starting over (scary!), or suggest the process to family members, try one of the following.

PC Decrapifier

Free for personal use, PC Decrapifier identifies all the programs installed on the PC, including sifting through and displaying applications that run when the computer boots, and then allows you to choose which ones to remove. Additionally, it makes recommendations which ones to remove, based on what it knows is crap and what is slowing down the computer.

For those situations where an IT admin needs to use PC Decrapifier for an office full of PCs, there's also a Pro user subscription for $25. The subscription is for one license for each IT person that wants to use it, not for each PC. So, one Pro license can be used to manage all the PCs in the entire organization.

Except for a "favorites" feature, there's literally no difference between the free and Pro versions. Both versions function the same, but if you're going to use PC Decrapifier in a business setting, supporting the developer through a subscription is just the right thing to do.

Web site: http://www.pcdecrapifier.com/

Malwarebytes

Malwarebytes has to be one of the more popular decrapping solutions. I've used this application probably more the rest and have had great success with it. When a PC was running slow or weird things were happening, Malwarebytes was the first application I turned to and it always located and eliminated the problems.

Malwarebytes is easy to use and does a great job searching the nooks and crannies to shine a spotlight on pieces of crapware that elude even the best applications. Granted, there are some malware that are extremely difficult to remove because they reinstall themselves on every PC boot. Malwarebytes eliminates these, too, by running during the boot process to catch the sneaky miscreants.

There's a free version and a Premium version. The Premium version costs $24.95 for 1 year/3 PCs. And, unlike PC Decrapifier there's differences between the Premium and free versions. The Premium version offers these enhancements over the free version:

  • Detects and protects against malware in real-time (free version has to be run manually)
  • Blocks hacking and phishing attempts (the free version does not run as a service)
  • Schedules automatic scanning (there's no scheduled scans with the free version)
  • Offers three flexible scanning modes (only a single, one-time scanning mode for the free version)

Web site: http://www.malwarebytes.org/

Lavasoft Ad-aware

Ad-aware is probably the oldest solution in the decrapping market, and was one of the first one's I ever used. Until Malwarebytes became available, I used this. Like PC Decrapifier and Malwarebytes, Lavasoft offers a free version and paid versions of Ad-aware. But, unlike the others, Ad-aware also includes real-time antivirus as part of the overall package. So, if you're not happy with your current antivirus application, you can combine antimalware (and crapware) and antivirus.

Ad-aware comes in four different versions: Free Antivirus+, Personal Security, Pro Security, and Total Security. Each version has different features. Of course, the free version has the most basic feature set which should be good enough for removing crapware, but if you need it for multiple PCs, and need additional features like file shredding and banking safety, you'll want to review the other versions.

There's a good version comparison here: http://www.lavasoft.com/products/ad_aware.php

Of course, as you add more features, there's pricing creep that ranges from $24 to $48.

Since Lavasoft has been around for so long, you have to expect that it has the most experience in crapware removal.

Web site: http://www.lavasoft.com/

P.S. Per Petabites, the Lavasoft Web Companion software may suffer from the same problems introduced by Lenovo's SuperFish application. So be careful there.

The great thing about a free offering for each of the three products I mentioned is that you can try out each one to see if it does the job for you. The other great thing with a free solution is that you can send the download link to a family member and have them decrapify their own PC.

You can probably tell from my descriptions that my favorite is Malwarebytes. I've just had such great experiences with it, but as always l leave it to you to decide.

Know of one I'm not familiar with that you believe is the best choice? I'm always open to testing out new options that could potentially work better. Let me know.