You've just unboxed your new laptop, fiddled with pages of privacy settings and finally reached the desktop. Upgrading to a new PC should feel like a fresh start, right?
There's a problem though - look to the Desktop (or Start screen) and you'll be swamped with sponsored shortcuts. Useless tools, games and straight-up marketing rubbish has turned the once pure out-of-box experience into a battle with the advertisers.
Behind the bloat
These "helpful" applications are configured to run in the background during start-up. Every time you turn on your new PC, these modern-day vampires sap your storage, reduce your available RAM and infiltrate your user experience.
Impossible to uninstall completely, a new wave of cheaply developed bloatware, has evolved as manufacturers favour profit over practicality. These apps seldom contain removal instructions, let alone any instructional material whatsoever.
What's more, Microsoft market and promote their bloatware-free Signature Edition product line. Computers branded with "Signature" designation start at a much higher price point, which leads us to the crux of the matter.
PC manufacturers are paid to install that veritable bunch of bloat on your new, pre-built PC. Naturally, OEMs ike Acer and Dell are more than happy to paint what some may view as a more disingenuous picture - that pre-installed applications "enhance your experience" with new features.
Bloatware isn't inherently malicious, but many products are considered Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) due to the level of intrusion that takes place. Oversight and bad programming methodology has led to a raft of privacy and security incidents over the past few years (not mentioning any names in particular...)
What you can do
Pre-built systems shipped with Windows 7 are only subject to the classic kind of bloatware we all know and love. As OEMs install their custom Windows 7 image onto the PC during production, you've got two main options.
Microsoft's Software Recovery service allows you to clean install Windows 7 onto your PC. By using a Microsoft-provided disc image and a USB drive or DVD, you have the option of re-installing Windows 7 sans-bloat.
Look for the COA (certificate of Authenticity) sticker on your desktop tower or laptop. It contains your official 25-character Product Key, and is usually shaped like a rounded rectangle.
Go to the Software Recovery page and familiarise yourself with the "before you begin" bullet points. Enter your Product Key and follow the USB/DVD Download Tool instructions to continue.
You may have to install additional manufacturer drivers after installation. Visit the official website and steer clear of bundling (e.g. free Google Chrome install or toolbars).
Alternatively, you can choose to confront the issue directly by completely uninstalling the bloatware. We're going to use the free version of Revo Uninstaller (other products are available) to help remove pre-installed software, as the in-built "Programs and Features" process isn't always effective.
A handful of legitimate "bloatware removal" applications do exist (and are free to download); the general consensus is that of these tools are often ineffective, though.
From the icon grid, select applications you wish to remove and click Uninstall. Next, choose a "Uninstall Mode" (Moderate or Advanced are recommended) and follow the step-by-step instructions. Repeat this process for each application; the post-removal scan should only take a couple of minutes in most cases.
By now, most of the bloatware should have been eradicated from your PC. To finish off, download the free AdwCleaner PUP removal tool. Simply click the "Scan" option. followed by "Clean" once the five-minute system scan has completed.
Upon restarting your computer, you'll be presented with a removal report from AdwCleaner - and a hopefully bloat-free desktop environment.
Windows 8 and beyond
Unfortunately, bloatware is slightly more of an issue for users of Microsoft's newer operating systems. Don't worry - the above clean install and uninstallation methods still work fine.
Many new Windows PCs come without a COA sticker, meaning you might not have to enter your Product Key. That's because it's already been written to the computer's in-built firmware platform, known as UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface).
Refresh and Reset
You may have heard that Microsoft's new operating systems come with options called Refresh and Reset, the latter offering a supposed "factory settings" re-install of Windows.
While this sounds good in principle, manufacturers soon became wise to these new features. Neither Refresh nor Reset are effective in bloatware removal. Manufacturers have produced custom recovery images packed full of the latest and greatest bloat from beforehand.
The new Start Screen
Adored and detested in equal measure, the Start Screen has also fallen to the perils of pre-installed Windows Store-style (previously considered as Metro/Modern UI) apps. Fortunately, there's a quick cure for these: simply right-click (or press) and select Uninstall.
Microsoft have announced the development of a new Fresh Install tool for Windows 10 users, designed to remove every trace of bloatware and other pre-installed applications.
Long awaited - and still in "rapid release" testing - this step hopefully represents Microsoft's own decision, making it even easier to banish the bloatware for good.