What is Foistware or Crapware, and Simple Tips To Avoid It

With five different operating systems running here on far too many computers, I see it all the time.

I’m That Guy.  I’ll say it this way:  Yes, I can fix your computer, but I won’t do it for free.  I’m done with that free stuff.

On the other hand, I hear this too many times.  Someone went out and got a new computer because it’s too slow.

The “new-to-me” computer I am using to write this on is a 5 year old.  It’s running Windows 8.1 and it’s running it quite well.  The one I do most of my professional work on is a 7 year old beast running Linux or/and Windows 7.  My file server is a 12 year old laptop running Windows 7.  That runs well too.  Laptops consume less power and space and do the same job as that beast of a desktop I used to love to build back in the day.

You say “Sure, but you know how to make it go faster”.

Yep.  It’s simple.  I don’t allow software foisted on me.  Crapware.  Foistware.

I was giving someone an old computer once who was staying for a few days.  Recently.  The day after he got the computer he had two pieces of Foistware already installed.

He got it when he went to install Skype.  I guess he wanted to be spied on, but he also wanted to talk to people in his family that was scattered all over the globe.  So I told him to go find the download and install.

Wrong person to do that to.  He went to a “Partnered Download Site” I was told.  Red lights and fire engine sirens went off in my head.  He ended up with a toolbar on the browser and a redirected home page.  I growled at him, fixed it, then sent him on his way.

Two very simple rules to avoid this kind of garbage.

First, make certain you are going to the software vendor’s approved site for downloads.  That means it’s going to require you, and not someone else, to do the research for you.  Skype is pretty simple, it’s a Microsoft product, so go to Microsoft to find it.  That takes care of the honest software producers.

Second, always, and I do mean ALWAYS, when you are installing the software use the Advanced install.  When you are installing, actually read the page that is presented.  Don’t simply click “Next”.  That’s how you get the crap installed in the first place.  That helps to take care of most of the dishonest software producers.

You don’t ever need a toolbar on your browser.  If you get one, remove it through your control panel’s “Programs and Features” list of programs.  There are way too many programs to list here, but you will then be able to remove the “feature” by double clicking on the name of the program.  Other more evil toolbars are actually more like a virus, and you will need to do research on how to get rid of them. 

If it truly is a virus, it gets much more complex, but here’s one way of fixing all that garbage.

That is the same place you can go to when you find yourself with a program needs to be removed, such as anything is riding along and doing “useful” things like presenting you with ads or anything by McAfee.

Why do I mention McAfee specifically?  Adobe Flash.  If you aren’t careful, when you do a security update for them, you will end up with the helpfully named “McAfee Security Scan Plus”. 

You don’t need it.  More “Foistware”.  All this “Foistware” slows you down.  You can get rid of it, or you could get a new PC and start over.  One requires less time than the other.  Since many computer stores that you can actually visit have a nasty habit of trying to upsell you to a more expensive model, you should try to delay that particular task as long as possible.

Basically be careful and watch what you’re doing.  It is, after all, your computer.  Just because a particular NEW! and shiny piece of software is “suggested” to you by something you actually want, doesn’t mean that you need the blasted thing.

In return, you may be able to skip a new computer next year.

How great would that be?  An extra couple hundred bucks in your pocket?  Or Pounds, or Euro?

You’ll thank me later.

Skype the vacation away

A while back, I was consulting for a start up.  Interesting situation, I helped out with some light Web Development and QA for a small group up in Philly and kept it up while I moved here.  The whole time I had a constricting 600 minutes a month on my T-Mobile contract.  The first month here, I blew that out and ended up with a $120 charge instead of my usual $40

We figured out a way to telecommute via Skype, and continued onwards. 

I used Skype to teleconference with people on Windows, Mac, and Linux on every sort of connection from Dial-Up (Yes, people use that still) to cable modem broad band.   It’s an amazing piece of software and completely free to use on the web.

I can go deeper into that, but functioning as a CTO/CIO for a start up from here in Wilton Manors while the rest of the organization was around Philadelphia and NYC was amazing experience.  Too bad the organization folded.  The Republican Induced Great Depression that we’re going through claimed another Small Business…

Right now, Kevin is up in Philly visiting Mom on vacation.  He’s got Skype on his iPhone and an unlimited data contract.  I’ve got it here on my laptop with built-in web camera. 

We’ve always played with technology but this is a difference.  With his iPhone 4 and the two cameras on it, we decided to play and go with a video call.

So I was sending and receiving a crystal clear audio stream.  Sound was FM quality, maybe better.   I didn’t have my headphones to judge, but Skype on my end blows away any cell phone call I’ve ever had except when I used Skype on the iPhone to chat with a friend in Key West.

What was amusing was what Kevin did next.  Video.

He was driving through the rolling green southern Pennsylvania countryside sending me “Quarter VGA” video in full speed.  It was blocky and grainy but it was utterly smooth.  We were laughing as he approached Mom’s home and knocked on the door.

“Hi Mom, look, Bill’s on the Phone in Video”
“Hi Mrs Mom! I bet you didn’t expect to be on TV to Florida did you?”
“Hi Bill! No I didn’t!”

I was then taken for a tour of a condo that I had been told so much about, saw her Orchids and the view through to the forest (or at least trees) behind the home and all the things that I had recognized from the visits to their home before I had moved to Florida.

The thing is that it’s completely free to use it over the web.  They also offer services for a couple dollars a month to allow you to use your Skype Account as a phone with a phone number in the US and other countries. 

Basically we’ve all got some chat options, but when I find myself able to use Skype, it’s what I prefer.   Doing Skype to Skype on two PCs is absolutely smooth. 

Last night I got a video Skype call from my friend in Key West, David. 

The video was full screen, and since we were on a “fast” cable modem connection, the video was better than Standard Def TV.  It may have been equivalent to 720p, I’m not sure, but it was stable as could be.

The thing is we both had older computers with web cams.  Mine is a Core2Duo processor – about 2 years old.  His was a 5 year old Mac Book on an old copy of OSX Leopard. 

You just don’t need high end equipment to do something that “The Jetsons” considered normal any more.

Why I use Skype

I got into this software ages ago.

When it works, it works well.  I even ran a business on the thing.  What happened there was I was doing some blue sky planning with a friend who wanted to start a web development company to fund a creative effort and I came up with the idea of using Skype for Teleconferencing.  

There’s a better than 95% chance that if you’re running a PC you can find a Skype client that will work.  Windows, Mac, and Linux.  They all work, and it’s one of the first pieces of software I installed on the iPhone that was recently given to me.

Think of it as a telephone that works with your internet connection and that’s the best short description I can give you.  On the other hand, I’m selling it short.  It does video phone calls and will let you share your desktop so you can diagnose problems remotely.

I’m always being asked to do support for people, remotely.  Sometimes I’ll even do it.

We used it for virtual meetings, rehersals, and the like.  It even worked with one person on a dial up connection in a rural area.

Dial up… remember that?  May as well have a tin can and a string but it worked.

The most amusing thing that happened with me and Skype was with a good friend, David, who lives in Key West.   We have a horrendous time talking on the phone because he’s in one of those all too common “AT&T Dead Zones”.  They really should patent that phrase (too late, this is “Prior Art”) because I hear way too many complaints from rural areas about AT&T Service.  Their customer service is why I’m on T-Mobile and am considering going to a regional carrier when T-Mo gets swallowed up by them.

Anyway, David on A-TNT can’t make a call inside his apartment to save his soul.  It drops.  It buzzes, echoes, and crackles.   It is painful and he has to stand outside and facing one direction to get the call “clear”.

He’s a British Ex-Pat living in the tropics.  I joke that he’s the Mad Dog out in the Noonday Sun at times.  I have also been telling him to get Skype so he can “ring family back in ol’ blighty”.   He did finally get that installed.  

Actually he came here to visit, I had installed it for him and made sure it worked on one machine so we could test it out, and told him to “use the bloody thing or else”.

The nice thing was that he did.  When he got back home to the Conch Republic, we hopped on Skype.  Instead of having that abysmal ATT connection, we had a clear high fidelity internet phone call.   He was on the Mac and I was on the iPhone and both of us were using Skype via wifi.   It was the difference between the old AM quality of a wired phone (Remember those?) and the FM or Better quality of Skype. 

The other benefit was that it was free and not metered since we both were on Skype.

Now David’s been considering getting a Skype Out phone number back in the UK so he could make free local calls to his family.  Not strictly “Free” but a nominal couple dollars a month. 

If it doesn’t have to go voice, you have a way to do text chats just like when you’re on the cell phone paying ridiculous rates for texting.  Again, only that it’s free since you’re going between Skype.

So why this writeup?  Skype was just bought by Microsoft.  Now if Redmond keeps the open source promise and maintains all those other operating systems, great!  If not and it becomes a windows only thing, that will be a major disappointment.  The other thing was that they just recovered from an outage.  If you had a specific version of the software on Windows, it didn’t work.  Luckily mine was an earlier version and is behaving nicely.  I even annoyed someone online with it, but that is a very different story indeed.