I have a good friend who works for AMD, he is an engineer by trade, and a damn good one. His mission at AMD though is far different from what a traditional engineer might do. It is all about bringing the power of the computer into the hands of the user. A computer is just a tool. An analogy that I have often used in the classroom is to compare the computer to a hammer. If you want to bang a nail in the wall you pick up the hammer. You don’t need to read a 1000 page book on how to use it, a couple whaps on the thumb and you instinctively know to keep your fingers out of the line of fire.

Of equal importance is that you can buy a ready to go hammer at the dollar store. You do not need to understand the process involved in hardening steel for the head, or how to use a lathe to shape the wooden handle.  It is not susceptible to virus attacks, although I guess if left in the right  environment it is possible that Termites might invade.

The same cannot be said of the current world of computers.

About 18 months ago my wife (against my better judgment) got fed up with using a Simon brand box built out of my junk pile. Her solution was to head off to Wal-Mart and buy a brand name piece of junk preloaded with Windows 7 (I suspect that the ‘7’ is some reference to the seven deadly sins, or the number of months between needing to reload it).

Yesterday was the third time I have reset the beast to ‘factory settings’. And it did nothing for my good humor!

In my mind this whole process should be easy, three steps. Step one, save the data that you want to some external device. Step two, reload stinking Windows and whatever other software you like. And Step 3, put your user data back.

Step one was easy, I gave Jan one of my external drives and let her do her thing.

Step three was easy. She plugged in the external drive and copied her files back.

The big Elephant in the room was Step two. You will have noticed that I have not mentioned the brand of computer, I do not need to, because all of these brands do the same stupid thing.

In order to cut costs manufactures no longer sell computers with real copies of Windows on CD. In fact, few even bother to include a recovery CD. The ‘in thing’ is to place the information in a hidden partition on the hard drive. Actually it is not a bad idea, people do tend to lose CD’s and this way, well, it saves time and tears.

There is however a downside, it provides the Brand with a way of messing with the end product. Reality is that there is not a big profit margin on a $300 PC. To up the ante lots of ‘not quite’ free stuff is bundled in.

So, I sat down at the computer, powered it on and hit the magic key that the manufactures website recommended. As this was not my first trip to the rodeo I was not surprised that the magic key did not work. I tried a couple of other magic keys in common use and found the one needed.

I got all sorts of warning messages and plowed on, I assured the nasty little program that I did indeed understand the gravity of the situation.

You will lose all your data, “I Know”

You will have to reload your own software afterwards, “I Know”

Are you sure that you want to do this? YES

Are you really sure? YES

Well OK, but don’t come back and whine at me “I promise I will not”.

The fun began. Grumpy though the program was it wiped the hard drive clean and reinstalled the factory version.

It only took about 5 or 6 minutes to roll the hidden image onto the live partition, but that was just the beginning.

Let the games begin!

At this point in the recovery process the user should be asked the question:

Do you want all the useless crap that came bundled with the computer and you had to spend hours of frustration trying to remove it Yes/No?

But alas that one question is missing. Instead we plunge into malware hell. First out of the blocks is Symantec’s virus, oops anti-virus software. To the untrained eye it looks harmless enough, lets face it in these modern times it is important to protect your computer from all of the rogue software lurking online. But there is a catch, this version is a 60 day free trial, after the trial is up you have to reach into your wallet for an annual subscription. It should also be pointed out that trying to get rid of Symantec products once they have their hooks into your computer is akin to playing Whack The Mole at the fairground.

After much negotiation I finally persuaded the Symantec malware installer that I was of sane mind, over the age of 21, and was absolutely positive that I had no interest in their kind offer to help protect the computer. Of course what does a  mere end user know? Obviously a wazoo company like Symantec knows better, and installs the damn stuff anyway!

So, we engage in a quick game of Whack The Mole anyway! Having dispatched Symantec to the depths of Dante’s Inferno, we move on to the next challenge.

A Windows based system does need an anti-virus program and my weapon of choice is the free version of AVG. Of course AVG would prefer that the user buy the ‘full’ version. Navigating the AVG website is akin to walking through a minefield. You must tread carefully else you will fall into the trap of installing the ‘trial’ version for the paid product.

I have been using AVG for several years, I have installed it on countless PC’s, but even I am leery of the web site. On a seemingly daily basis they change the rules of engagement by adding yet more opportunities to ‘buy’ the product.

Much like the Symantec products, it doesn’t seem to matter what options you actually select during the install phase, something unwanted arrives on your computer. And sure enough I managed to become the proud owner of not one, but two unwanted gifts.

Screen ‘real estate’ is prime property, particularly when working with internet browsers. When I look at a web page, I want to read the content, the more content I can see, the happier I am. AVG on the other hand disagrees. It thinks that everyone needs more tool bars, the AVG tool bar, and the Google Toolbar.

So, once again I have to play Whack The Mole.  This game is getting old and I am getting grumpy.

Back to the plot. While I have been dealing with the anti-virus war our brand name computer has been hard at work finding new battlegrounds for the unsuspecting Wal-Mart customer.

Just like a real war, every victory comes at a price. I had won the battle against Symantec, but it was won at the cost of yet another reboot. My ally AVG had agreed to help, but only at the same price!

An army commander can only be in one place at one time. While I was busy on the anti-virus front, other skirmishes were breaking out. Both the Microsoft forces and the ‘Brand Name’ computer forces were demanding that the other unconditionally reboot.

With little choice I agreed that they could indeed reboot.

The war however was far from over. Both Microsoft and ‘Brand name” had been waging battles of their own while I had been preoccupied by the world of Anti-virus software. The saga of the reboots continued unabated.

The dust finally settled and i viewed the end result. I now had a computer loaded to the hilt with junk! Microsoft had managed to install trial versions of MS Office, this had to be removed to prevent some horrible conversion of documents issue that was obviously going to occur.

“Brand Name” had installed a plethora of junk software that no-one in their right mind would want to use. Online game sites, Photo manipulation software with the versatility of of Fisher Price baby rattle, and all sort of useless things to fill up the System Tray and eat the CPU.

The motivation for the “Brand Name” to behave in this manner is obvious, money. he purveyors of the junk software pay a small fee to the “Brand Name” to have the junk included in the package.

For the user though, it is just a huge irritation. I also feel that in many cases there is a huge level of deception involved, the junk software purveyors have spent a great deal of time perfecting the art of NO to mean YES. Unless you read the install questions very carefully you will indeed be the owner of something you do not want.

Simon Barrett

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