Following up on my recent purchase of a Windows 10 computer at the Microsoft Store, I want to comment briefly on one of the tentpole features of buying directly from Microsoft: The Microsoft Signature Edition program.
All computers sold at Microsft Stores and through their website are part of this program. These are computers that are advertised as not including any third-party middleware. You know the type of programs I’m talking about if you ever purchased a computer on the nineties: Anti-virus trials, registry cleaners, America Online and CompuServe offers, web browsers, mail and chat clients, card games, etcetera. Back then we even had a name for these programs. We called them “crapware”. That is why the Microsoft Signture Edition experience was a major selling point for me—especially after having to deal for years with low quality software from Dell, Compaq, Gateway, and many others.
The good news is that Windows 10 already includes very good mail, calendar and contacts clients out of the box. These are first class citizens just like in Apple’s OS X. I’m happy with the system apps after only a few weeks of use. Good bundled apps is something Windows had needed for years and I’m glad it’s finally here.
The bad news is that I still found applications on my system from Dell. Two apps, one for the audio card and one for contacting Dell support, were bundled in to my surprise and disappointment. And while the annoyance to uninstall them only lasted a few seconds, I can’t help to think that they should not have been included in the first place.
Sins of the Father
Also included in the Microsoft Signature Edition computer were two promotional “installer launchers” for Office 365 and Skype that Microsoft itself includes on the system. These apps are represented by an icon on the Start Menu and they are not traditional Internet shortcuts. They are not application trial versions either. These launchers are something in between. Their purpose is to find the installer for the promoted app, download it and run it. These are not just shortcuts, but rather small executables. Even after installing the promoted app, the launcher maintains its icon in the Start Menu as well as its entry in the Add/Remove Programs section of the Control Panel.
Why is this junk even needed? A less savvy user is bound to get confused when clicking on Get Skype or Get Office instead of the actual apps. It does not help that the launchers have the same icons as the actual apps and that the launchers are not automatically uninstalled after they’ve served their purpose. Microsoft ought to reconsider this strategy.
But what else can they do? I wish Office and Skype were system apps. Both of these products are the best of their category on the platform, and they are already usable for free with some restrictions (even Office). Making them part of Windows eliminates confusion. Sadly, Microsoft will never take this step because of the ever-vigilant eye of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Third-party bundled software has traditionally been a problem for buyers of new Windows computers for decades. The Microsoft Signature Edition program is a step in the right direction towards solving the problem. If you’re on the market for a Windows PC, this is the best way to buy one. The system apps of Windows 10 are better than ever.
I hope that Microsoft reconsiders the use of installer launchers on Microsoft Signature Edition computers. Unfortunately, anti-trust concerns forces the company’s hand when it comes to bundling apps with Windows. Even if Microsoft can’t include the real apps, they ought to streamline the experience for new users who may benefit from this cross-promotion.