Preinstalled “OEM” Software Needs to STOPMarch 11th, 2009
This is a long one, but it is really a pet peeve of mine and I don’t know how I haven’t written about this before…
I’m sure you all know what this junk is… it’s software that comes installed already on the computer when you buy a pre-built system from companies like Acer, Lenovo, HP, Dell, etc. The manufacturers often get paid large amounts of money to pre-install this crapware on your shiney new computer, or sometimes it is software direct from the manufacturer that they think will help you or be of some benefit.
Unfortunately this is hardly EVER the case and more often then not the software does more damage then it does good.
The 2 biggest offenders I have ran in to during my countless dealings with all of the major brands have been Lenovo and Acer. Acer shouldn’t be that big of a surprise as they are generally a shit company. They put out PC’s with shitty, cheap components which will fail, and even when you’re paying a premium for their gaming machine line, Acer still has to recall them all because they could potentially burn down your house, and their support is absolutely worthless. I’ll save the Acer rant for another time though. So really it should be no surprise when Acer installs software that will cause your machine to eventually bluescreen whenever booted normally (not in safe mode, thankfully).
But first let me mention Lenovo. While I like Lenovo’s hardware and support, they have got to be one of the worst offenders at loading down your system with crapware. It seems like any time I’m setting up a new Lenovo machine for a client I have to uninstall at least 20 programs (not even kidding here, I took a screen shot one time but for the life of me I can’t find it now) from the machine just to get it to “like new”. The worst part comes when you find out Lenovo does absolutely ZERO testing of the software it installs. On one particular laptop model (this happened on all laptops of this model we received from Lenovo, I think there were 5 or 6 of them) one of the preinstalled pieces of worthless garbage was the Yahoo toolbar in Internet Explorer. First off, search toolbars like this really bring my piss to a boil because they’re never ever ever ever add any value. Ever. All modern browser have built in search bars which can be customized. If you find yourself attached to Yahoo’s shit-ass search results, you can add it to the browser’s search bar. You should never install a toolbar who’s purpose is to search and add advertisements on to your machine (usefull toolbars I love, such as Web Developer for Firefox). Obviously Yahoo forked over a nice chunk of cash, and in return Lenovo gets to put out a system with an Internet Explorer that will crash every time you visit an https site! This particular client noticed it really fast because they set all their homepages to an https site of their parent company’s, so every time they tried to fire up IE after setting the home page, IE would crash! Sure it was easy to figure out and easy to uninstall the Yahoo Toolbar, but this type of stuff should NEVER happen, and average joe who can barely use a mouse will never figure it out. And even worse is that when shit like this happens, Lenovo or Yahoo typically don’t take the rap like they should. Microsoft takes the rap. People say “Oh look, Internet Explorer is crashing on my brand new machine! Microsoft sucks!”, and while IE is a cancerous tumor on the face of the internet, it is NOT Microsoft’s fault that software writters and manufacturers install add-ons to it which make it run like shit and become unstable such as in this Lenovo case.
My next, much more serious, example goes back to the Acer brand I mentioned a bit earlier. Acer installs about 10 programs on their new PC’s that are branded with Acer’s name. The one particular one that caused problems was “Acer eLock Management”. The program is supposed to allow the end user to encrypt and decrypt files. Unfortunately the software is absolute shit so no one uses it. On this particular machine something caused this software’s driver to crash the computer every time it loaded. I can’t pinpoint exactly WHAT started the crashes, but I suspect it was either XP SP3 or some other Windows Update. The machine would boot, you’d login, then as everything was loading up it’d blue screen and reboot on you. The bluescreens weren’t much help as they only gave you a Stop Error 0x00000024 which is a pretty generic memory error.
I knew it was something that was loading at startup since I was able to boot in to safe mode with networking just fine. I ran down the wrong path for at least an hour thinking it was some type of spyware causing the crashes. Surprisingly enough all of my scans came back completely clean.
I then did what I should’ve done in the first place. I pulled the crash dump files located in c:\windows\minidump and analyzed them.
In the past I’ve done this manually using the Windows Debugger. While it’s not necessarily hard to do, it is a bit convoluted and the Windows Debugger can be picky as to which symbol sets are loaded and where you install them from. In comes one of my new favorite power user utilities, which this would be the first real case I’d put it to work on. WhoCrashed? It was a bit annoying having to pull the files off the crashing machine because WhoCrashed has to install the Windows Debugger to use it. If it’s not installed, it can not be installed in safe mode. So, if you have a crashing machine, you can’t install all of the programs you need to find out why it’s crashing. Genius! Another thing that was a little annoying was WhoCrashed? can’t be told which dump files to look at. It automatically looks in c:\windows\minidump. So to get it to work I had to copy all of the Acer’s dump files on to my machine, put them in the minidump folder, then run WhoCrashed. There is an extra step in there that doesn’t need to be… but I’ll let it slide since this is only the 1.0 release of the program. Maybe in 2.0 we’ll see user-selectable crash locations. It’d also be REALLY nice to be able to run this utility from a thumb drive. Once I placed the memory dumps in the right location WhoCrashed? analyzed them and pointed me to the exact driver causing the issue in about 10 seconds! Every crash file pointed to a system driver file. When I searched the crashing machine I found it was an Acer driver for the eLock software (it was obvious from the folder it was installed to). Had I done this originally I would’ve saved some time, but some times when you do things over and over and over again, you skip steps assuming the cause is something else. Never rule out a possible cause, especially when trouble shooting.
After locating the cause I uninstalled every program Acer had preinstalled, rebooted, and the machine was perfect (well as perfect as a cheap ass Acer could be).
I’m not leaving out companies like Dell and HP, but they really are not as bad as Lenovo and Acer are. I have yet to see any Dell or HP machines with a bug or crash from preinstalled software (although I’m sure there are). This doesn’t negate the fact though that the practice of preinstalled OEM software should be stopped. It does no good to the end user, and as seen here, can cause instabilities and even crashes in the machines when the end user has done absolutely nothing wrong!