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.”

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  • Paul Ellis

    Most people don’t realize this, but Microsoft really tried to clean up the “first boot” experience and to limit how “offers” can be made to users, because they know the consumer can’t stand this stuff, and they got sued by OEMs like Sony, HP, etc. Honestly it would drive me crazy to be getting sued at Microsoft for behavior that your chief competitor gets away with. After-all Microsoft’s problem with the EU is because the include Windows Media Player with Windows. Doesn’t OS X come with iTunes and Quicktime? Yup, but somehow that’s not illegal to the EU, even though iTunes is the dominant online music store.

    Anyway, as odd as it sounds, I hope more OEMs follow Sony and allow you to purchase computers without all of the crap. It won’t make a huge impact until it happens at brick-and-mortar stores though.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    I don’t think it sounds odd. I’m all for OEMs letting me make my purchases without unneeded crap. The question is the $50 charge for it…

  • Paul Ellis

    Well you have to understand that they make money from that crapware. They aren’t just screwing with the customer for no reason. Most estimates have it that they get $40-$50 for installing all of that crap. With the low profit margins on computers it isn’t like they can afford to just sell it at the same price.

    I would think that a OEM like Sony that really tries to differentiate their computer products would just stop including all of the crap and just increase prices by $50 though. It isn’t like their machines are the cheapest on the market. This either/or approach is what I’d expect to see from Dell, not Sony.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    Right. I realize they make money off of crapware, but they’ve got to come up with a better way of dealing with their problems. I agree that a buried price increase of $50 would have been much better.

    As it is, the way they’ve branded this “Fresh Start” supposed “service” is just awful. And people are noticing.

  • goleez

    Re. Sony crapware deal:

    Boycott Sony’s laptops. This the best way to show them – from our pocketbooks. The computer companies are getting away with murder.
    Another related topic:
    While Sony do make decent laptops, the repair costs are horrendous. Just to repair a (defectively designed in the first place) dc input connector, Sony wanted to charge me $350!. Pulled out my trusty $1.25 soldering iron and replaced it (2 hours to remove the covers et al) – but was it worth it.
    I was an ardent fan of Sony in the 80s and 90s (great TVs and audio) – but after my laptop incident, no more Sony products for me.

  • me

    FYI, sony sucks and has so for some time. I go out of my way to buy NOTHING from sony. Once you start noticing how their shit is built to break, the sooner you see how much of a crap company they are.

    Try noticing how everything is built to break from them. I challenge you. You’ll thank me for it with all the money you will potentially save. Just because something looks cool doesn’t mean it IS cool. I like to call it a “polished turd”, because you can polish a turd and make it look as pretty as you like, but a turd is still a turd.

  • http://www.consoletech.net _skitzo_

    @goleez
    Ever think why it would cost you $350 in repair costs?
    Anyway your example is foolish, considering that is a knowing problems with Dell’s as well. Hell I’ve had Macbook Pro with the same problem, Dell, and Gateway.

  • Bill

    What’s all this talk about ‘desktop icons’? An icon is about the smallest file on your PC and takes up next to no room, uses none of your CPU, and has zero impact on speed or ‘optimization.’

    As you implied in your own article, people are not idiots. It’s the software running in the background that slows down the PC, not the icons. You could happily delete all 20+ icons and it would have no impact on the programs running. They would carry on burning up your CPU and slowing your machine down regardless of not having a visible presence on your desktop.

    No offense guys, but you might as well be saying one computer is faster than another because its screen is bigger.

  • Hmm

    Well duh…just dont buy Sony laptops.
    I buy IBM/Lenovo laptops because they dont have any crapware on them.
    ALso if you buy a Dell (i dont like them but…) just buy thru their “small biz” program and it wont have crapware.
    Only people who are computer illiterate should be duped into supporting crapware firms.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    Bill-

    If icons were only icons, then you’d have a point. It’s not the icons themselves that are the problem. But, in fact, these icons are often linked to pre-installed programs on your computer (sometimes gigabytes worth!).

    And Sony has the audacity to say they’re doing you a favor by preserving “valuable” disk space if you pay them $50. Like you said, people aren’t idiots. They’re likely to realize Sony’s message is a weak attempt at a marketing spin.

  • RobM

    “What’s all this talk about ‘desktop icons’? An icon is about the smallest file on your PC and takes up next to no room, uses none of your CPU, and has zero impact on speed or ‘optimization.’”

    Ok Bill. So what happens when someone double-clicks one of these icons?

    Maybe you’re trying to say the language in the article is awkward? Fine, but it’s perfectly obvious what they are trying to say here.

  • bwahahaha

    Yeah, I never had a problem with crapware because I roll my own systems. However, there are less technically inclined people in my life, family and friends, and they all know that if their machine gets all slow or crapped out, I’ll be there and for only $100 will make their system zoom.

    I didn’t used to charge but everyone kept hassling me. Now that I charge, they still hassle me, but at least I get paid.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Paul Ellis

    I have only had one system where I have used it without installing Windows myself, and that has been my Thinkpad. I did end up installing Vista on it, but before that I ran the install of XP it came with for a little over a year. Unfortunately for many consumer Thinkpads are oriented towards business users quite a bit. I’m curious to see how Lenovo’s new consumer line works out.

  • james reno

    Well, one way to think about it is that the price of Sony laptops currently is *artificially* lower, subsidized by the crapware. The price of the laptop would normally be $50 higher based upon market pricing.

    If you don’t want to pay the subsidized price, you instead pay the market price +$50 — without the crapware subsidy, Sony is allowing you this choice.

    I agree that this isn’t going to garner customer happiness. I Sony had simply released the laptop with no crapware, and a higher price, everyone would be happier.

  • nobody

    Why don’t Sony just say that they make $50 from crapware sellers by plumping your laptop full of blubber?

    Oh yes, they don’t want to get sued for the things they pull off.

  • Craig

    This why Jason York scripted the “PC DeCrapifier.” It saved me fistfuls of hours prepping low-end lappies for the kids.

  • mike

    I call false advertising- they failed to remove the largest piece of crapware of all- windows. the fact that windows is bundled by default is damn near illegal especially considering MS is a convicted monopolist in many countries. not even considering that sony was the one responsible for some of their DRM’ed media containing a trojan for their own benefit. sony isn’t a company anyone in their right mind would support for things like this and their prior traitorous dealings. buy elsewhere

  • Chiron613

    For those who don’t remember, Sony was the company that was using stealth technology to install DRM software on your computer when you listened to certain CD’s – without your permission, and without telling you it was happening. This proved to be a major disaster for Sony because this technology was similar to that used by virus writers, was installed illegally, and was done badly. It caused serious instability in the operating system and could make the system unusable if a person tried to uninstall it himself.

    I wouldn’t trust Sony with my data or my computers. They’ve proved to be dishonest and focused on Big Business, rather than the customer. If I pay for a computer, I don’t want to be paying for features that interfere with my use of it, in order to further the wishes of greedy companies who are trying to squeeze more money out of me.

    And I don’t want to pay for the privilege of removing software that shouldn’t be on there in the first place. There is no reason why that software couldn’t be put onto a CD that would allow anyone interested to run the programs and take advantage of the offers.

  • Blair

    Y’know, that’s fantastic for you people who refuse to purchase Sony, or DEll, or any of these other people who partner themselves with third party offers because you’re too lazy to uninstall some programs, but you need to realize that the computers are offered with this software in order to not only get you into their software, but to bring prices down. These companies offer Sony and Dell (etc) money to put this stuff on your computer and that money trickles down to savings for you, the consumer.

    So if the price of the $50 savings is to uninstall a few pieces of software, then I’ll save the $50 and take 20 minutes to remove the software (and if anyone thinks it takes longer than that to uninstall some shareware, then you might need that $50 so you can learn the basics about removing software)

    It may not be the best way to do business, but it’s the way that’s been working for both companies for a LONG time.

  • Buzzfriendly

    I understand why companies do this and if they want to add crapware to the setup thats fine as well. I am going to format the drive and set it up the way I want it anyway, but for a large number of people this is not an option. Sony could have had it cake an eat it as well. Run a clean line of laptops at the regular price and offer the laptop with various “trail software” at a discount. This way it gives the illusion that you can save a few bucks and you just might find a piece of that crapware you like. Everybody wins and Sony could use a reputation boost after its various blunders of the past few years. They sure aren’t the company they used to be.

  • ricky morrison

    Linux doesn’t come with crapware, so there is a way to save $50 and not have crapware.

  • Vince

    Blair,
    You’re under the impression that the $50 the crapware companies pay to the OEM are passed on as savings to the consumer? That’s a joke, as they probably lower the price $2 bucks and line their pockets with the other $48. There is no incentive to offer anything to the consumer unless their slick ad campaigns fail to produce. Only then will you see a cost savings in an effort to sell more units.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Paul Ellis

    @Ricky

    As someone who has used probably a dozen different flavors of Linux, I can tell you that yes (most) Linux distributions do in fact come with crapware; it’s just that nobody is paying for it to be there. Most distros come with multiple of everything (web browsers, media players, even office suites) all in the name of “choice” even if most of the options are total crap. I think that is why Ubuntu is so popular actually, less (bad) choices.

  • Blitz

    The time comparison at the beginning of the article, for a start isn’t fair to anyone reading, as a macbook obviously would not boot to a windows OS. Though this is just a sub-point, not the focus or reason for my post.

    From a business/marketing perspective, because of the money the “crapware” (proprietary for-profit software makers) pay to be installed by default, it does make sense from Sony’s perspective to charge for a comp without “extra software”. This is NOT sony’s fault, this is the fault of the general populace purchasing product without research, preference or objection to capitalistic and proprietary software.

    Look at the fact the more than 40% of current AOL subscribers still do not own a computer, and infact in most cases pay for a service they have never utilized or bothered to understand, and you will find that for the most part people are not computer savvy or even generally intelligent when computers are involved. Nerds (like myself) tend to blow up at marketing like this, but we forget at the same time that sony INVENTED the CD in 1983, for instance, which even in 2008 is technology we use on a day-to-day basis, and I cannot boycott or excommunicate them completely.

    The reality is that the market is changing for the better, and sony is slowly realizing that the people opt for faster computers. This type of marketing will not appeal to the savvy, that much is obvious. Clearly the target demographic is the average idiot who knows what the layman knows of computers, and that person may be willing to pay the 50$ that sony would have otherwise gotten through a 3rd party (advertising), as opposed to making the smart choice and just installing an open source alternative as soon as the damn thing hits fresh air. We are currently experiencing sn open-source revolution, and linux, especially ubuntu (because of the sponsorship and marketing) leads the charge in some areas.

    If we want to solve this issue, especially quickly, we need to show the layman that there are open-source alternatives. The real problem is that people think that they are stuck with the computer programs that come with the machine, which is what happens with microwaves and cars, for example, but not PCs or even macs. If generally after a purchase, the layman would be able to install whatever software they liked, this would not be an issue.

  • Mitch

    “Mike Says: …. the fact that windows is bundled by default is damn near illegal especially considering MS is a convicted monopolist in many countries.”

    Huh…If it is “damn near illegal”, who are you says is committing the crime? Microsoft is not forcing Sony to buy Windows, so you must be saying that Sony is the criminal for choosing to install Windows. Sony installs Windows because that is what the market demands. If they could make money selling (and supporting) Pre-installed Linux, they would. As it is not yet practical($$$) for them to pre-load Linux, they will continue to load windows.

    Your statement comes off as a silly fanboy remark, and “damned near” really stupid

  • Skeptic

    “Vince says:….You’re under the impression that the $50 the crapware companies pay to the OEM are passed on as savings to the consumer? That’s a joke, as they probably lower the price $2 bucks and line their pockets with the other $48….”

    Geez, of course it is a savings to the consumer. Do you think that if Sony suddenly gave up the $48 per laptop, they would just eat the loss, do you think shareholders would not demand better returns. If they had to give up the kickbacks from crapware, of course they would make it up by charging the consumer. Don’t be deluded into thinking otherwise.

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  • http://www.articlesnatch.com Matt Ellsworth

    as crazy as that all sounds… a friend of mine bought a laptop from circuit city and they offered to go through it all and remove all the crap from it for like $20 or so. So apparently vaio isn’t the only one.

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  • Bob Robinson

    Like bwahahaha above I make money to remove the rubbish. It takes about a hour on most systems so it costs.

    If OEM’s made the “offers” available but not installed and all in one folder, with the icons on the desktop if thy must. Then we could choose whether to install or not. That way the advertisers get their way, the OEM gets some income, the buyer gets to choose to try if he wants; everyone wins. I do think they would have to agree to have proper uninstalls that remove all that they installed including all registry entries, log files and config files.

  • Rich

    Folks,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I used to wonder why sony laptop takes for ever to do anything. I have a dual CPU Vaio Laptop. This damn things runs slower than the IBM Thinkpad T30. Just cant believe this. I already changed battery on my Sony Vaio and my friend also went through changing his battery on his Vaio too. I am sold on the fact that sony laptops are bunch of crap never am I going to buy sony again or recommend sony.

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