It’s no wonder so many people call NYISI for tune-ups when their computers don’t seem to perform like they used to. Software bundling has escalated to the point that even some new computers today come bogged down by unnecessary software right out of the box, straight from the manufacturer. But even just installing a seemingly innocent program like iTunes can cause computer performance to drop considerably, and the reason for this is software bundling – the practice of packaging multiple computer programs in a single install file.
Bundled software, commonly known as software bundles, is the practice of including several related programs into a single package. For example, the popular media player Winamp is bundled with eMusic, a marketplace for downloading media. But often times software is packaged with programs that have seemingly no relation to the desired program, such as the bundling of the Google Toolbar and McAfee Security Scan with Adobe Flash Player. When software bundling crosses that line, and begins to include programs that have no relevance to the desired program, it is called foistware.
What’s wrong with software bundling?
iTunes is perhaps one of the perfect examples of software bundling gone awry, despite how widely used it is. Ever wonder why why it takes iTunes so long to download and run an update, or why iTunes 9 has a 90MB installer? Installing Apple iTunes on a Windows XP computer will install the following programs – without any option to disable them (a brief description of each is provided):
- iTunes (obviously)
iTunes is a proprietary digital media player application, used for playing and organizing digital music and video files. The program is also an interface to manage the contents on Apple’s popular iPod digital media players as well as the iPhone.
- iTunes Helper
“Listens” for commands to help iTunes communicate with devices (such as iPod).
- Apple Software Update
C:\Program Files\Apple Software Update\SoftwareUpdate.exe
In addition to releasing new versions of the system software at regular intervals, Apple also releases a stream of free software updates to enrich your computing experience.
QuickTime is a media player that allows Mac and Windows users to play back audio and video on their computers, as well as a proprietary media file format developed by Apple.
- QuickTime Tray Application (starts at boot)
Provides a QuickTime icon in the Notification area (system tray) of the Windows Task bar. This process might or might not appear depending on your configuration of QuickTime and whether the QuickTime icon is enabled in the Notification area.
- Apple Mobile Device Service (starts at boot)
C:\Program Files\Common Files\Apple\Mobile Device Support\bin\AppleMobileDeviceService.exe
Provides the interface to Apple mobile devices
- iPod Service (starts at boot)
iPod hardware management services
- Bonjour Service (starts at boot)
Bonjour allows applications like iTunes and Safari to advertise and discover services on the local network. Having Bonjour running enables you to connect to hardware devices like Apple TV and software services like iTunes sharing and AirTunes. If you disable Bonjour, any network service that explicitly depends on it will fail to start.
As if that all wasn’t bad enough, when the Apple Software Updater runs, which it eventually will thanks to the frequency with which Apple updates iTunes, the “software updater” by default acts like a “software installer”, adding:
- MobileMe Control Panel
MobileMe is the online service from Apple that automatically keeps your email, contacts, calendar, bookmarks, and more in sync across multiple computers, your iPhone, iPod touch, and a suite of web apps on www.me.com.
- Safari 4
Safari is a web browser developed by Apple, offering features comparable to other modern web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Technically, it doesn’t even end there. iTunes also includes the “iTunes detector plugin” for Mozilla Firefox and the “Outlook iTunes sync addin” for Microsoft Outlook.
So before you install iTunes, ask yourself – do you really need 10 separate programs just to use iTunes? Or are you just trying to manage music on your iPod? As if installing so many different applications, and taking up so much hard drive space needlessly wasn’t bad enough, running four system services and a fifth boot time process – slowing down the overall time to boot up and start applications – is what NYISI customers seem to notice most. And unfortunately, many popular programs engage in this kind of deceptive or annoying bundling.
Notorious Software Bundle Installers and Alternatives
- Apple iTunes
After the example above, was there really any doubt this would be number 1? Ajua from MSFN is kind enough to post some customized installers on his homepage. His version of Apple iTunes is modified so that it has no Bonjour service, no iTunesHelper or iPodService at startup and no MobileMe support. The only catch is that you will also need to install QuickTime Alternative – a QuickTime codec without the unnecessary bundled media player. Also, people with an iPhone or iTouch need to install Mobile Device Support separately, otherwise, iTunes will work but won’t be able to sync them.
Download iTunes Switchless 9.x from AjuaOnline
Download QuickTime Alternative from FileHippo
- Hewlett-Packard Printer / Scanner / Fax Drivers
Not everyone has the “pleasure” of using a HP printer or multifunction device. But if you do, you may notice that much like Apple iTunes, HP printer “driver” software really is much more than just drivers. “HP Solution Center” is one of the more visible pieces of the puzzle – but HP, like Apple, buries a number of hidden programs and system services on computers to which it is installed. Blogger Simon Willison covers this in some detail, but this review of a PhotoSmart printer says it all:
“The size of the drivers and the associated software programs is a recurring theme we’ve noticed in HP’s printers, and unfortunately, the functionality of the package doesn’t nearly reach what you would expect. While HP Photosmart Essential 3.0 will walk you through some novel tasks like printing onto CDs or making calendars, common photo tasks like retouching or adjusting brightness and contrast aren’t covered at all. The photo library system is also slow, clunky, and buggy for us. The first time we attempted to add photos, the file browser starting blinking and wouldn’t allow us. Another time, it crashed entirely.”
The solution here is be careful when running the driver software installer that HP provides. Choose “Advanced” or “Customize” install and ensure you install only the features you really need. If in doubt, try installing just the driver. If you are missing something, simply re-install.
- Adobe Flash
Another highly popular program that includes unrelated bundled software by default. For Internet Explorer users, Adobe offers Flash bundled with Google Toolbar, and for Firefox and other alternative browsers, Adobe offers McAfee Security Scan bundled. Of course, most people just want to be able to play YouTube videos and aren’t looking for the hassle of an extra browser toolbar – or the slow performance and browser crashes that are inevitable as more plugins are installed. On top of that, Adobe forces users to download Flash using “Adobe DLM”, a custom download manager that is also quite unnecessary. Fortunately, Adobe does actually provide direct downloads for Flash without the bundled software:
Download Adobe Flash for Internet Explorer
Download Adobe Flash for Firefox, Safari, and Opera
- Sun Java JRE
Java and Windows have always had something of a contentious relationship, going back to the lawsuit between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems stemming from Microsoft’s implementation of Java. Java may even be known to casual computer users as a program they are asked to update more than they use. Unfortunately for end users, Sun’s Java Updater is also used as a way for Sun to hawk browser toolbars and other unnecessary programs. The Java Updater offered the Bing toolbar in August, but also offered the Google toolbar as far back as 2006. On top of their pushy update practices, Java also installs browser plugins and a updater that runs every time the system is started.
Although these programs do actually help Java start faster once your PC is fully booted, the question is how often you really use Java – and whether you need to run it at every boot. One other thing about Java Updater that is particularly annoying is that each time it updates, it adds a new entry to the Windows “Add/Remove Programs” dialog instead of replacing the old one, leaving a cluttered list of installed applications. The best solution is to simply uninstall the Sun JRE if you don’t need it. You can always install it if you do find that you need it. Of course, many people do need the Java JRE occasionally. Once Java is installed, the best bet is to disable the quick start plugins. You could also disable updates via the control panel, although this does not remove the Java Updater from starting – it simply exits quickly. You can disable the updater by deleting its startup entry in the system registry. Disabling updates will reduce your computer security, but the updater will also set the updater to run again by default even if you have disabled it, which is quite annoying. Finally, vigilance is important when running the Java Updater. Since this is so frustrating, we recommend uninstalling Java JRE completely if you do not require it.
- Adobe Reader / Foxit Reader
Let’s just set it straight now – Foxit Reader is by far the lesser of two evils. Adobe makes a second appearance on this list for another one of their most popular programs. While the ubiquity of Adobe Reader has made PDF files one of the most popular formats for document exchange, Adobe has slowly bloated their once lean program into sheer obesity. Stop us if you’ve heard this before with the other examples here – but Adobe Reader is bundled with a “speed loader” that runs at boot, browser plugins that cause slow downs, crashes, and even critical system security flaws, and to top it off, it includes “Adobe AIR”. Adobe even proudly claims there are 100 million installations of Adobe AIR worldwide – which is incredible considering probably only a fraction of those “users” even know what it is and an even smaller fraction of those users chose to install it on their own volition.
Enter Foxit Reader, a lightweight alternative to Adobe Reader, with comparable features and impressively fast performance (especially compared to Adobe). Unfortunately, for all its positives, Foxit reader can’t resist the temptation to bundle a browser plugin, the Ask.com toolbar, and desktop advertising shortcuts to eBay. These can all be disabled using the “Custom” install, which is easy enough, although you will want to be careful to make sure you just install the basic features. Another gripe about both programs is that the provide desktop and quick launch shortcuts for programs that are really only used to open files (in which case, you would probably just open the program by trying to open the file itself, making the shortcut unnecessary).
Download Foxit Reader from FileHippo
There are too many software packages with unnecessary bundles that it would could fill an entire website, but feel free to fill our website with comments about other bundled software you’ve encountered. And if your PC needs a tune-up, you can always call New York Information Systems Inc. NYISI technicians can help diagnose a wide range of computer issues for both home and small business users. Bring your old computer back to life with a tune-up by NYISI, starting at just $49.