Remove built-in junk

Your hard drive was full before it even left the shop. Jane Hoskyn shows you how to remove the rubbish that came pre-installed on your PC, laptop, phone and tablet

The best way to declutter your junk-filled old PC is to replace it with a new one, you’d think. After years of fighting a losing battle against that growing landfill of software, updates and program files, you deserve a fast, new, empty machine.You won’t get that, though. You may get a new machine that’s deliciously fast, but it won’t be empty. In fact, unless you construct the PC yourself or pay someone through the nose to custom-build it for you, you’ll get a shiny new PC that’s stuffed to the gills with pre-installed junk.

Remove built-in junk

Fire up your new (or nearly-new) laptop, open the All Programs list (or click Apps in Windows 8/8.1) and behold the clutter. Where did all those programs come from? You didn’t put them there, that’s for sure.

Many built-in programs on a Windows PC are Microsoft tools, and some are useful, but they’re not all necessary. Other pre-installed tools were put there by the PC’s manufacturer (the likes of Dell Update and ‘Face Recognition for HP’). Most do little other than fill up that hard drive you paid good money for. Then there’s a dishonourable wealth of third-party rubbish such as Ask Toolbar and Savings Bull, whose creators struck partnership deals with the manufacturer to get their products on to your PC.

At best, this built-in junk is annoying; at worst, it’s dangerous. I recently took aim at PC maker Lenovo for bundling malicious search adware, Superfish, in people’s new laptops. Lenovo has now released an official Superfish Removal Tool and published full instructions for removing it manually (www.snipca.com/16375).

Not all pre-installed programs are malicious, of course, but these incidents prove that just because something was put on your PC by an official authority, it doesn’t mean it’s good or even safe. In this feature we’ll show you how to remove all kinds of pointless pre-installed junk from new PCs, tablets, phones and even that old computer you’ve been using for years.

If you recently bought a new Windows laptop, it’s almost certainly running Windows 8/8.1 and its pre-installed browser will be Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE). You can find IE by tapping or clicking Apps at the bottom-left of your Start screen. Pin the IE logo to Start, then tap or click it to open the browser.

Here’s where the trouble starts. IE has its own built-in search tool, Bing, which is also owned by Microsoft. The browser’s default homepage is dominated by a Bing search box, which is easy to mistake for the much smaller URL address bar. At first glance you may not see the address bar at all. You’d be forgiven for typing a URL into the Bing bar, then wondering why it opens a list of Bing search results instead of a web page (see the large screenshot below). If you type one of our ‘snipca’ shortened URLs into the Bing box, it won’t know what on earth to do. Bing makes IE so confusing it’s probably put some new PC users off the internet for life.

Still, it gives us a fitting start to this feature. Bing is a prime instance of built-in junk. The fact that it’s bundled with IE doesn’t make it OK. You never asked for it, and you’re better off without it. It’s easy to switch to a different browser with a clear, easy-to-use address bar, such as Firefox or Chrome. We’ll use Chrome as an example.

Go to www.google.co.uk/chrome (or type chrome into Bing, then click ‘Chrome Browser – Google’), click the blue Download Chrome button and then click ‘Accept and Install’. At this point you may be hit with a blizzard of pop-ups from your PC manufacturer (such as the Dell Digital Delivery box in the small screenshot below). Close these by clicking the little cross at the top-right. The only box that matters is the one with ‘Application Run – Security Warning’ across the top. Click Run, then Yes in the next box. Chrome will then take a minute or so to download.

Once that’s done you’ll see a ‘Welcome to Chrome’ box. Click Next, then click Google Chrome when asked ‘How do you want to open this type of link (http)?’. Finally, Chrome will open, with a big, clear address bar across the top and no third-party programs cluttering up the homepage. Type any URL (including ‘snipca’ links) into the bar and press Enter to go straight to that website. You can also type search terms into the address bar to run a Google search. The Firefox address bar works in the same way.

Installing Chrome or Firefox doesn’t automatically remove IE or Bing from your new PC or laptop. In fact, it doesn’t remove anything at all – just adds to your tally of installed programs, which may already be enormous. To see some of the stuff that was already installed before your new computer left the shop, tap Apps at the bottom left of your Start screen in Windows 8/8.1 or go to the All Programs list in Windows 7. But to see all of it, you’ll need to run PC Decrapifier (www.snipca.com/16331).

This free, easy-to-use tool is specially designed to sniff out junk programs that come pre-installed in Windows 7 and 8/8.1 PCs and laptops.

PC Decrapifier is portable software, so it’s very quick to run. Click the big blue Download Now button, click the program file (‘pc-decrapifier-3.0.0.exe’), then click Yes to confirm you want to run it. In the program window that opens, click Analyze to scan your PC or laptop for installed software, including pre-installed junk that doesn’t appear under ‘Uninstall a program’ in the Control Panel.

Even on a brand new laptop, such as the HP Envy model we used in a recent Workshop to run a previous version of PC Decrapifier, the analysis may take a few minutes. This goes to show the sheer volume of junk already installed in your “new” hard drive.

When the scan finishes, click the Everything Else tab to see all the programs installed on your new PC. Some are innocuous (the browser you’ve just installed, for example), but there will also be several pointless tools installed by the PC’s manufacturer. And, as we’ve seen from the recent stories about Lenovo and Superfish, there may even be malicious junk on the list.

The Everything Else tab in PC Decrapifier lists all your PC’s software and lets you remove every last shred of it in one go – if you really want to. Tick everything in the list (or, more likely, just the items you want to remove), click Remove Selected, then click Begin Removal Now to uninstall all selected items automatically, one by one. The program saves a system restore point automatically so you can roll back your changes if anything goes wrong.

Next, run the free adware-remover AdwCleaner (www.snipca.com/16337) to wipe out any pre-installed nasties that PC Decrapifier missed. Like PC Decrapifier, AdwCleaner is free and doesn’t need installing. Just download and run it, then click Scan to check for malicious files in any area of your PC, including the Registry. When the scan has finished, click Cleaning to automatically remove all the files found. You’ll have to restart your PC to complete the process.

Note that portable programs like PC Decrapifier and AdwCleaner aren’t updated automatically in Windows. You should download the latest versions every time you run them, because they’re constantly being updated to fight newly discovered junk.

Stripping out every piece of software bundled with a new PC may be satisfying, but it’s not always wise. Built-in software is rarely malicious, and some of it may even be useful. For example, the Dell laptop we used for our PC Decrapifier screenshot (above) came bundled with Microsoft Office for free – and we’ll hang on to that, thank you very much. Other built-in programs, such as manufacturer’s backup tools, are potentially useful too.

PC Decrapifier offers very limited guidance on what to keep and what to ditch. You can click the Questionable tab to see what’s ‘popular to remove’ among other users, and click the Recommended tab to see what’s ‘removed by many’ users. But when we tried this on our new laptop, there was nothing listed under Questionable or Recommended – despite the fact that it contains oodles of built-in junk.

To get a better idea of what’s worth keeping, use the free portable version of Revo Uninstaller (www.snipca.com/16341). Scroll down the page and click the second-to-bottom Download button, extract the contents of the ZIP file (‘revouninstaller.zip’) and click the EXE file (‘Revouninstaller.exe’) to run it. Wait a few seconds while the window fills with icons for all your installed software, including system plug-ins, updaters and other built-in components.

Right-click any item you’re unsure about, then click ‘Search at Google for’ and select a search term (usually the program name or its publisher). This runs a Google search in your default browser – which is no longer IE, if you’ve followed our advice from the previous page. Revo’s right-click menu also lets you check where the program or component is installed, and uninstall it quickly and completely.

It’s not just you. Here are the 20 programs most commonly removed from PCs by users of the free program PC Decrapifier. As you can see, most are unnecessary ‘utilities’ pre-installed by PC manufacturers, with HP being the biggest offender. For the full top 50, which also includes WinZip and Spotify, go to www.pcdecrapifier.com/removes.

1 Drive Encryption (with HP ProtectTools)

2 Face Recognition (with HP ProtectTools)

3 MyWinLocker Suite

4 PDF Complete

Youngsters don’t have a monopoly on problems, and young PCs are not alone in suffering a plague of pre-installed rubbish. Your trusty old computer may not be cursed with Superfish or what have you, but it still contains pre-installed software – and much of it has been hiding in that dusty hard drive for years, clogging it up and slowing it down.

With an older PC it’s harder to spot which programs came built in, because there are so many other programs installed. The Control Panel’s ‘Uninstall a program’ list (formerly ‘Add/Remove Programs’) offers precious little information, and doesn’t even list all the software on your PC. Instead, use NirSoft’s free tool MyUninstaller (www.snipca.com/16320), which works on all versions of Windows from 98 to 7.

Despite its tiny size (a mere 35KB), this portable program reveals a huge wealth of technical detail about every single piece of software installed on your PC or laptop, including unexplained plug-ins and Microsoft clutter. Among this information is the exact installation date of all software, so you can see what came bundled with the PC. You can also see which website its installer was downloaded from, where its Registry files are kept and which software was used to install it (ideal for rooting out adware).

To get MyUninstaller, scroll right down the page and click ‘Download MyUninstaller – Add/Remove Alternative’. You should download the program ZIP using a Windows 7 or 8/8.1 PC for safety reasons, then copy it to a USB stick to run on your older PC. Extract the contents of the ZIP and click the EXE file (‘myuninst.exe’) to run it. Wait a moment until the software list appears.

Scroll to the right of the window and click the Installation Date header to reorder all the programs, so you can see at a glance what software was installed when you started using your PC, or even before you bought it. To make the Installation Date column easier to see, click and drag it to the left, then drop it next to the Entry Name column.

You can uninstall several programs at once by highlighting them in the list (press Ctrl while clicking them, or press Ctrl+A to select them all) then right-clicking and choosing Uninstall Selected Software. There’s also a Quiet Uninstall option which completes the process unobtrusively, without any Confirm buttons to click along the way. To export a copy of the entire table and save it to your PC, right-click any program and click ‘HTML Report – All Items’.Among its other talents, MyUninstaller is great for zooming in on your PC’s built-in Microsoft junk. Click the Company column header and scroll down to ‘Microsoft’ to see how many Microsoft programs, plugins and system components are installed. There may be dozens, including many that have been there since the first time you switched on the computer.

The fact that a program is made by Microsoft doesn’t necessarily mean it’s important or even worth having (Windows Defender, for example – read “THE DANGERS OF BUILT-IN ANTIVIRUS”). However, we still advise caution when removing Microsoft tools. Some are vital Windows components that your PC won’t work without.

To check whether any item is needed by Windows, right-click it in MyUninstaller, click Properties and check the System Component field. If it says Yes, leave the item alone. If it says No, and the Uninstall field (a little further up) says Yes, you can remove it from your PC.‘Can’ doesn’t mean ‘should’, though. Look up any mystery item in Google before you get rid of it. Revo Uninstaller has a handy Hunter Mode tool for identifying programs that you’re considering uninstalling. Click the Hunter Mode icon on Revo’s menu bar to open a target practice icon, then drag it on to a program shortcut or Microsoft tool to find out what it is. Let go of your mouse to open the usual Revo right-click menu, which includes ‘Search at Google’ and Uninstall.

Remember you can disable any unwanted Microsoft tools instead of removing them. Many Windows components can easily be disabled using the (useful) built-in tool MSConfig, then re-enabled whenever you want.

Built-in tools often refuse to go without a fight. They were there before you, and they’re jolly well going to stay to the bitter end of your PC’s life – or so they think.

Geek Uninstaller (www.snipca.com/16360) may have a nerdy name, but it’s one of the toughest weapons in your software-removal armoury. Unlike MyUninstaller, it runs on Windows 8/8.1 as well as older versions (back to Windows 2003). Click the little blue Download Free link in the ‘Free version’ box to download a ZIP that contains the portable program. You’ll need to run it as administrator.

The program doesn’t offer much information about your installed programs or even let you batch-remove them (in the free version, anyway), so it’s not ideal as a first port of call. But it will help you remove a built-in program that you couldn’t manage to uninstall using the other tools we’ve mentioned, perhaps because the program was corrupted or partially installed. Right-click the program in Geek Uninstaller’s list, then click Force Removal.

If the item still won’t go, run AdwCleaner and the free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (www.snipca.com/16376) to check it’s not malicious. If they don’t identify it as adware or malware and you can’t uninstall it, leave it alone. There may be dozens or even hundreds of preinstalled bits and bobs on your PC, but they may not be taking up much space – certainly not as much space as the software you’ve downloaded willingly over the years.

Your PC may have come with an antivirus suite built in. McAfee Internet Security, for example, is built into many Asus Notebook PCs (www.snipca.com/16363) and normally costs £28.99. Windows Defender (www.snipca.com/16364) is made by Microsoft and included with Windows. Great, right?Actually these tools can do more harm than good, especially if you don’t realise they’re there. If you go ahead and install your own choice of antivirus, it will conflict with the pre-installed antivirus. They’ll effectively cancel each other out.

Use the tools we’ve described in this feature to research your PC’s built-in programs and check whether they’re antivirus suites. If you do have more than one antivirus installed, make sure only one is enabled. Disable Windows Defender (here’s how: www.snipca.com/16365) – it’s not powerful enough to protect you.

Good antivirus is worth paying for. Kaspersky Internet Security or Norton Security consistently take first and second place respectively in tests by our security partners, Dennis Technology Labs (see www.snipca.com/16340 for the latest quarterly results in detail). You can buy the current test winner, Kaspersky, for the special price of £17.99 (normally £39.99) from www.snipca.com/14212. Microsoft’s free downloadable antivirus, Microsoft Security Essentials (www.snipca.com/16368), consistently comes bottom in our tests and should be avoided.

Smartphones and tablets are small computers, and like Windows PCs they come stuffed with pre-installed software.Android is owned by Google, so Android devices are pre-loaded with Google apps such as Chrome (www.snipca.com/16372) and Google Play Books (www.snipca.com/16373). They also contain manufacturers’ apps such as Motorola Migrate (www.snipca.com/16371) and Samsung’s S Health (www.snipca.com/16380).

These apps can be useful, but we’d rather decide that for ourselves. They take up far more space relative to the device’s hard drive than built-in programs do on a PC. This is a particular problem for devices without expandable storage, such as Motorola’s first-generation Moto G (www.snipca.com/16374).What’s worse, you can’t uninstall them. Go to Settings on your phone or tablet and tap Apps, then tap a pre-installed app. There’s no Uninstall button, as there would be for any app you’ve installed yourself. Instead, it says ‘Uninstall updates’ – which does little other than make the app less stable.

Even if you’ve never opened the app, it may have generated many megabytes of useless data simply by existing. Tap ‘Clear data’ and ‘Clear cache’ to clear this data. If you never use the app, tap ‘Force stop’ and then Disable. To stop multiple Android apps at once, use the free app Advanced Task Killer (www.snipca.com/16377). Tick all the running apps you want to stop, then tap ‘Kill selected apps’.

Also remove pre-installed app icons from your device’s screen. Tap any icon and hold it until ‘X Remove’ appears, then swipe the icon to the top of the screen.You can remove pre-installed apps by ‘rooting’ your device, but we wouldn’t advise it. Rooting means breaking into the Android OS, which voids your warranty and leaves a big hole for hackers to exploit.You can’t remove built-in iOS apps unless you root (‘jailbreak’) the iPad or iPhone they’re on. Apple guards its software tightly, and it’s not about to let you ride a wrecking ball through its slick mobile OS.

But at least you can delete the icons, right? Actually you can’t. Deleting an iOS app icon (tap and hold, then tap the cross) deletes the app itself, and you can only do that with apps you’ve installed yourself.

You can, however, use a simple trick to hide Newsstand, iTunes Store, Stocks, Game Center and other pointless Apple rubbish from your screen. Tap and hold one junk app’s icon and drag it on to another junk app’s icon. They automatically merge to create a folder. Tap the folder to open it, enter a folder name (such as Extras or ‘Apple rubbish’), then tap your home button to save it. Now you can drag all your useless Apple app icons on to the folder icon. The apps and their icons will still be there, but at least they won’t stare you in the face every time you switch on your device. Then make your own choice of free thirdparty apps from the App Store (www.snipca.com/16386) – and delete them when you want.

Rumours of the death of pre-installed Samsung apps are exaggerated. In March, tech websites reported that Samsung’s new Galaxy S6 Edge phone would let its users delete pre-installed apps.

Unfortunately the stories had to be corrected a day later (here, for example: www.snipca.com/16383). As it turns out, you’ll merely be able to ‘hide’ apps – which you can do already, by removing their icons and ignoring them.We can’t blame the websites for getting excited. The fact that you still can’t remove pre-installed apps without breaking your phone or tablet is, frankly, ludicrous.

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