The Windows 8 consumer preview is utterly delightful. But I have a huge suspicion that by the time it ships, it could completely suck. And that's because the people who make the machines on which it is installed could screw it right up.
When you buy a new computer, before it arrives in your hands, the manufacturer installs Windows on it. And when they do, they often install a bunch of other useless programs as well, because the software vendors pay them to. It helps bring prices down; you can think of them as being ads subsidising your hardware. The thing is, they also tend to seriously degrade performance.
I'd been using a Windows 8 test rig provided by Microsoft for several days, and it was great. But I was curious how the experience would translate to my personal machine. So I installed it on my little HP Pavilion notebook. Sure enough, I loved it there too.
But it hit me that one of the things I'm loving so much is that neither of these builds is cluttered up with a horrible bunch of junk that's only there because somebody in Palo Alto did a deal with Symantec or Roxio or installed some dumb game that nobody would ever willingly install on a machine.
It means my older, cheap little notebook actually runs better on a new operating system -- because it doesn't have a million unnecessary things going on in the background. One of my last glimpses of Windows 7 on the Pavillion was this banner popping up to remind me that without The Nortons, I'm going to be eaten by Sasquatches or something:
It was a fitting goodbye.
I don't want to just single out HP. Basically every major OEM clutters up Windows with garbage crapware. At CES this year, one of the things Vizio was touting about its all-in-ones and ultrabooks was that they'd come with "clean" builds of Windows. Think about that: Vizio is using what it doesn't include as a selling point. Dell has done the same thing in the past. And at one point, Sony was even trying to charge an extra $US50 to not install a bunch of horrible software on your nice new computer.
Not that this is news to any longtime Windows user. I don't recall if my version of Windows 3.1 came with a bunch of trialware all over it, but I know that my Windows 95 machine and every subsequent one I bought thereafter was littered like a Times Square sidewalk. Typically one of my first tasks when I get a new machine is to begin uninstalling as much crapware as I can. It's abundantly clear that I'm not alone in that. Even Microsoft is aware of what a terrible problem it is, otherwise it wouldn't make such a big deal about the PCs it sells in its store being Microsoft Signature PCs. That means no bloatware.
And its clear that Microsoft is working to make sure that you won't need as much of that third party stuff with Windows 8. It's baking in a lot of the traditional add-ons as native features. For example, its next generation operating system will come with a beefed up version of Windows Defender. You'd hope that would kill the need for some of the many irksome extras most people have to couple with Windows. And yet, despite Defender being on by default, Microsoft is still promoting lots of third party security vendors.
One of the great things about Windows 8 is that it's all clean lines and clutter-free. Yet I strongly suspect that, behind the scenes, OEMs are at this very moment already making deals to load up their machines with unnecessary software to bring costs down. It's going to happen.