Sony Charges $50 Extra to Sell You Laptop with No Crapware

Sony LaptopSony and crapware have a special relationship, so much so that it takes over two minutes for its laptops to boot into Windows (compare that with 30 seconds for a MacBook). The company has even issued press statements explaining its reasoning: “The programs are carefully selected and provide benefits to many consumers, up to 30% of whom act on the offers.”

But apparently Sony figured out that if 70% of its customers aren’t interested in two dozen icons of offers (really Sony, 3 to 4 is one thing, but over 20?), the company should offer a crapware-free version of its laptops. Sony, in all its branding glory, has decided to trademark the term “Fresh Start” but has made the huge mistake of charging $50 for it. Here’s the description:

“Opt for a Fresh StartTM and your VAIO PC will undergo a system optimization service where specific VAIO applications, trial software and games are removed from your unit prior to shipment. Fresh StartTM safely scrubs your PC to free up valuable hard drive space and conserve memory and processing power while maximizing overall system performance right from the start. “

I love the terminology. “System optimization service” is what we’re calling a computer that comes without crapware. And by characterizing hard drive space as “valuable” and memory in need of conservation, Sony is effectively digging its own grave. I mean, do they not see that consumers notice this? If this new $50 feature “maximizes system performance,” then what does that imply of all the Sony laptops sold before it?

Also, it should be noted that no “Fresh Start” is available unless you pay the extra $100 for Microsoft Windows Vista Business. Here’s a list of all the crapware Sony installs:

  • Two desktop icons for America Online services
  • At least two dozen icons for random offers
  • Two desktop icons for Microsoft services
  • Napster window in the lower right part of the screen
  • “Watch Hit Movies Now!” icon which requires you to pay to play the movies already taking up space on your computer
  • Internet Explorer preloaded with AOL toolbar
  • AOL set as default search engine with Google not even listed as an option
  • Symantec Internet Security 60-day trial (requires multiple rounds of warnings / scans / updates before use)

*Update* Wired is running a piece claiming that Sony “won’t charge $50 to remove bloatware.” They even have quotes from Sony spokespeople: “There will be no charge for Fresh Start.” Well, I just went to Sony’s website to verify this news and… surprise, surprise, the charge of $50 is still there. Maybe it’ll change soon, but Sony PR and Sony Online apparently need to talk first.

*Update 2* Gizmodo has a brief post that pulls a Sony quote of nowhere: “Starting March 22, Sony will offer Fresh Start free of charge. We want VAIO users to have the best experience possible with our PCs, and we believe Fresh Start will help ensure that happens right out-of-the-box.”

It looks like the consumer uprising today may have had an effect. Here’s another quote, this one from Sony’s Mike Abary, Senior Vice President of the VAIO division:

“We didn’t intend that to happen. We’re removing the $49 charge. VAIO is the poster child for negative experiences people had [with trialware]. We recognize that, and we acknowledge it. We’ve been really beat up by this issue. We’re listening and we’re taking action.”