Articles: Newsletters

Bloatware vs. Malware

When clients contact me is that their computer has slowed to a crawl or has strange things popping up. My first guess without even looking at the machine is bloatware or malware has been installed. Most computer users don’t know the difference between bloatware and malware because they tend to cause some of the same symptoms. They are both very annoying, and they slow down computer systems. There are some major differences between the two, though, and those differences go a long way toward figuring out how users can rid themselves of these issues.

Bloatware is a term for software that is preinstalled onto a computer or device, or software that installs itself alongside other applications. Bloatware often takes the form of toolbars, media applications, back-up or recovery software, quick starting software, or games. Not all preinstalled software is bloatware, however. Bloatware refers specifically to software that is deemed useless, frivolous, or obsolete by users. One of the quickest ways to accumulate these unwanted programs is to not catch the extra little check boxes when downloading something you do want. An example would be downloading a free security software tool and not seeing the little check box that says download and install the *Ask Toolbar. You don’t want the Ask Toolbar but if you don’t uncheck that box you are getting it. It will now be yet another program taking up space on your hard drive and loading every time you open your internet browser. Bloatware is generally obnoxious in some way. It might take up excessive room on a computer’s memory, or slow down the boot process, or automatically try to open certain kinds of files by default. Bloatware is generally not dangerous to a system. It is generally programmed to serve some sort of function that is beneficial to the end user, but either the user does not need the software or it fails in its function for any number of reasons.

Malware is far more obnoxious than bloatware, and can often prove destructive. Malware is software that is designed to change the behavior of a system in a way that negatively impacts the user. Malware can be viruses, trojans, hijacking software, data miners, worms, keystroke trackers, or any other software that harms end user experience or seeks to harm the end user’s data. It may take the form of a search bar, a freeware game, or a social networking program. Malware is often very difficult to actively remove, and may also harm the function of other software when removed. One of the tell-tale signs of a Malware infection is the inability to run your security programs or any of the administrative tools on your machine.

While bloatware can often be simply uninstalled or disabled, malware often requires specific software to be removed safely. If handled without care, malware may seek to reproduce itself or disable the computer system where it is stored. While bloatware often comes preinstalled on a computer system, malware generally is acquired by risky computer usage. To avoid malware, avoid websites that deal in illegal content. Avoid downloading software from websites other than those you trust, and when possible, download it directly from the publisher or the official app store for your computer system. Never open any attachment on email or click on links embedded in email if you do not know the person sending it. If your computer becomes infected – always use a good malware removal tool or give us a call. This is actually one of our areas of expertise!

*not that I have anything against the Ask Toolbar –just using an example