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Know when to trash it

It’s a sad fact that most computers sold today come bundled with all kinds of programs that you didn’t ask for, don’t want, and will likely never need.

It’s a sad fact that most computers sold today come bundled with all kinds of programs that you didn’t ask for, don’t want, and will likely never need. Most of them are buried somewhere in your applications and systems folders, and since you’ve probably never heard of most of them it’s difficult to know exactly what you can delete.

Why are they there? Usually because the computer manufacturer was slipped a few bucks to include these programs, or because they came bundled with other, more useful programs.

The unwanted software ranges from trial versions of programs you can only use for free for a month — but don’t automatically erase themselves when that trial period is over — to a wide selection of web browers, toolbars, instant messaging services, games, e-mail clients, Voice Over I.P. products, security programs, and applications for everything from mapping to reading electronic documents.

There are little utilities that may one day bug you to subscribe to a pro version. There are beta versions of programs from companies looking for an audience. There are drivers and support programs sent by companies making peripherals you may never own.

Not only do these useless programs take up hard drive space, some are turned on at least some of the time. That sucks up memory and processor capacity, and slows down your Internet connection as the programs check in with the mother company from time to time.

According to an article on C/Net ( ), the official name for these unsolicited programs is “crapware”, although it sometimes referred to as “bloatware”. The article discussed ways to purge all the crapware from your new laptop, although the same general idea can be applied to your desktop computer as well, whether it’s Mac or P.C.

The issue was also tackled in one of the those PC vs. Mac commercials, with the PC guy — a bloated John Hodman — saying “It’s all this trial software. They pack my hard drive full of it, all these programs that don’t do very much, unless you buy the whole thing… it really slows me down.”

However, despite the ad Apple is not exactly innocent when it comes to crapware. Macs come with a trial version of Microsoft Office and Apple’s iWork and iPlay software, as well as World Book encyclopedia, Internet Explorer, Zinio (online magazine reader), and a handful of games.

According to C/Net, one of the only things you can do is to shop for computers that come without added software. Dell and Gateway already give people the option of what software to include when purchasing online, but if you’re buying from a store you’re going to have to do a quick run through of applications or talk to the sales agent.

For most people it’s a do-it-yourself project.

The first step is to know where your programs live. For PCs using XP and Vista, you want to go to the Control Panel and find the “Add or Remove Programs” application. A window should come up that lists all your currently installed programs that you can select and delete in just a few steps. To make sure that all short-cuts and companion files go with the program, do a search for the name of the program and trash everything related to what you just erased.

Sometimes programs don’t appear in an Add or Remove Programs window. If that’s the case, open the program and look under the Help menu to see if there’s an option to manually delete it. In other cases, you have to navigate to where the programs live on your drive. Check in any folders labeled Applications, Programs, System, and Utilities and do a quick run-through. If you’re not sure what something is, Google Search the term to find out whether you need it or not. Never erase anything without first finding out what it is and whether or not you need it.

For good measure, Vista has a new application that lets you see how your memory and processor are being used in real time. If there’s something running you’re not sure about, Google it — it could be spyware or a bot for software you don’t want.

For Mac users, most programs will be in the Applications folders. That includes all bundled programs, test software, and some games you may not want. If your Mac has been upgraded, moving files from an older computer, you may have some Mac Classic programs to delete as well — look for Applications (Mac OS 9) on your hard drive to take care of those as well. I had three full versions of Quark Express on my work computer in three different Applications folders without even knowing it.

Lastly, go into the Utilities folder (it’s in Applications) and open Activity Monitor. This will tell you what programs are running at any given time, and how much memory and processing capacity they use. You might find bots running for programs you might not be currently using but don’t necessarily want to delete, like the iCal Alarm and Scheduler. Use the Activity Monitor to turn these off, and they should stay off until you activate the software manually.

It’s really a performance issue. Computers with overloaded hard drives and a lot of active programs running are slower to respond to actions, and access your fragmented software and files. Keeping your system clean and organized is the key.