Sony yanks bloatware removal fee from laptops

Sony withdraws US$50 bloatware removal fee in the wake of a uproar

After causing controversy for charging US$49.99 to remove trial software from hard disks of new laptops, Sony has backtracked from imposing the fee on customers.

Starting on Saturday, Sony's Fresh Start software optimization feature will be free, the company announced.

Fresh Start is a Sony feature that lets customers buy certain laptops without so-called "bloatware," trial software that laptop makers often load onto new machines. Sony was asking buyers of the Vaio TZ2000 and Vaio TZ2500 notebooks with the Windows Vista Business OS to pay US$49.99 for the removal of the extra software. Those customers already pay an additional US$100 to upgrade to Windows Vista Business OS from Windows Vista Home Premium.

But after an uproar erupted online Friday in response to the Fresh Start fee, Sony has decided to offer the option for free.

"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," the company said in a statement.

Sony earlier justified the fee by saying it covers removal of the unwanted software before shipment.

Fresh Start is only available to buyers of the two Vaio customizable machines.

Customers opting for Sony's Fresh Start could miss out on software including Microsoft Works, bundled with a trial version of Microsoft Office; Sony's Vaio Creation Suite Photo Software with a Corel Paint Shop Pro trial version; the Click to Disc video editor WinDVD; and an edition of QuickBooks Simple Start that tracked only 20 customers.

Software publishers often pay PC manufacturers to include trial versions on computers they ship. Bloatware, as it is also known, can reduce system performance and available hard disk space, and take away system resources. It could also affect office productivity by introducing security vulnerabilities, and bloatware games can distract workers.

Dell last year offered the removal of bloatware from its Vostro line of PCs. Everex is also among a few vendors that offer PCs with the option to remove bloatware.

(Peter Sayer of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.)

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