Spy vs. Spy

A Serious Intro for Once

We all know the saying about power and absolute power. Recently we’ve witnessed politicians falling like dominoes in the face of scandals: There is something about success that gives one a feeling of invincibility, and those in that state of mind are at a great risk for careless behavior.

Not taking advantage of others, doing what’s right when nobody’s looking, admitting your mistakes… such is the stuff of middle-school classroom discussions.

The Specialist’s Job

It is especially easy for someone in a technical, financial, or mechanical field to take advantage of his clientèle; it stems from the fact that some customers are simply terrified of the unknown. I’ve seen the most successful doctors, lawyers, and candlestick makers turn to pudding when they mention their computers. “I can’t even turn mine on!” or “My machine is so slow; I need to buy a new one!” Those of us in the PC repair industry [with social skills] will readily admit that technology is intimidating.

Alas, even product manufacturers can become guilty of taking advantage of their consumers. Today’s discussion will focus on software that installs itself right under your nose, and hopefully beginners and techies alike will learn something new today!

Mystery Machines

At one point in my career, I worked as a contractor for a Very Large Organization. Twenty-five times a day, I received tech support calls from its well-educated workforce, flustered and frustrated with their PCs. The computers were very capable ones, but for some reason they were all running as slow as molasses. Some users assumed the machines were slow because they were three years old. Others didn’t think to mention it until I asked how their machines were running. Most wanted to throw their machines out the window.

Upon further inspection I discovered that among many other things, the slowest machines had one thing in common: They were connected to HP OfficeJet printers. Could the simple fact that they were connected to a certain model of printer slow the machines down? Not… quite.

If you read last month’s article, you’ll know how much I love toolbars. My first step was to query these computers to see what software they had on them, and sure enough some toolbars came up. Some had the HP Yahoo! Bar, and some had something called HP BING BAR. Interesting: Why would HP install a third-party toolbar on someone’s machine? That wasn’t all I found. There were a few other programs with names like Orwellian euphemisms, such as HP Customer Participation Program (the customer is just nagged to no end, and their computer “phones home” to HP, to report printer usage statistics). All this just to print a darn book report?

Marketers Gone Wild

In all actuality, the only thing needed to print or scan is something called a driver. A driver is a tiny piece of software that tells your computer things like:

  • Hey, this is how to talk to my printer.
  • Hey, here’s how to receive an image from my webcam.
  • Hey, this is how to control that new scanner I just plugged in.

Unfortunately, when you buy an HP printer (especially the newer OfficeJets), you also get some stowaways. Here’s what you get:

  • HP Customer Participation Program
    • Again, this program renders the consumer an unwitting participant in some sort of mass research project driven by HP. Nobody knows what it is, nobody cares, nobody wants it.
    • Note that “Required Disk Space” is only 15MB. That is absolutely inaccurate. If you check out Add/Remove Programs (as I did in the picture above it), you’ll see that it takes up over ten times that amount.
    • In all seriousness, as you can see in the description, HP wants its customers’ feedback. Are you ready, guys? Here goes: STOP MAKING FLIMSY PRINTERS. GO BACK TO MAKING GOOD ONES. ALSO STOP PUTTING BLOATWARE ON PEOPLE’S MACHINES. There! All set.
  • HP Solution Center
    • Arguably benign and (as legend has it) useful, HP Solution Center isn’t damaging in and of itself. However, it’s been known to have mini-meltdowns where the software corrupts itself at random. If it stopped there, that would be great. However, it then erupts into an endless loop, attempting to reinstall itself over, and over, and over, and over, and over, popping up at random throughout your workday. Uninstalling it remedies the situation.
  • HP Share-to-Web
    • A few years ago, HP printers came with adware known as Share-to-Web. STW placed an advertisement icon on your desktop that was basically impossible to remove, and caused your computer to hang/crash if you right-clicked it in an attempt to remove it. Hardly anybody knew what it was or cared to use it, but the amount of frustration it causes is scandalous.
  • HP Smart Web Printing
    • SWP adds unnecessary buttons and items to your Web browser (including Firefox) – and slow it down in the process. Word around town is, the Smart Web Printing button allows you to print out websites in a manner suitable for your HP printer. However, most users have no idea what the feature does or that it even exists.
  • HP Update
    • All day long, HP Update calls home, checking and checking and checking for new updates. There is absolutely no reason HP needs to update the driver. If it prints and scans, you’re all set! Imagine your car salesman following you on a motorcycle for the next ten years, sticking pieces of Bondo and duct tape onto your new car!
    • It also nags the living hell out of the user. Every 30 or 60 minutes it would come up and harass my clients at VLO. They had no idea what it was, and worse yet, their technicians unwittingly installed it! They were confused, annoyed, and perturbed.
    • HP also admits that this program introduces security holes into your computer – so, get this! – it claims you need AN UPDATE to HP UPDATE!

  • HP Yahoo! Bar, HP BING BAR, or Search Toolbar
    • These monitor everything you do on the Web and slow your browsing experience down immensely. See my article on toolbars if interested.
  • myPrintMileage
    • Monitors how much ink and paper you’re using. Whoop-dee-doo.
  • Shop for HP Supplies
    • HEY DID YOU KNOW YOU NEED INK? You’re too stupid to realize when your pages come out dry, that you need new ink!
    • Newer versions of Shop for HP Supplies and Customer Participation Program together waste ONE AND A HALF GIGS on your hard drive – that’s just counting those two programs.

Again, all of the software mentioned above is entirely superfluous and, at best, slows your computer down. There are one or two programs in this package that are harmless and may be useful once in a blue moon, such as OCR (used for scanning in textual documents), or HP Image Zone (if you want to edit photos but have masochistic tendencies and have never heard of Microsoft Paintbrush).

Maybe a powerful machine can handle all of this garbage (again, even the powerful PCs at VLO suffered a noticeable degradation in speed), but most Average Joes have older machines at home and are overwhelmed by this and the many other pieces of bloatware they have.

How to clean it up

If you’re never going to use the printer again, and you have the original CD, pop it in and simply click Uninstall. Actually, it’s not so simple. After removing all of the garbage, HP conveniently forgets to remove BING BAR. You have to go to Add/Remove Programs and remove that yourself. Nice!

If you are going to use the printer again, but don’t want all the garbage, just go to Add/Remove Programs and remove all the garbage discussed above, such as Customer Participation Program and Shop for HP Supplies.

THEN, Go to your Start menu, then Programs, then Startup, and check for Digital Imaging Monitor. If it’s there, right-click and delete it. It monitors your printer ALL THE TIME, slowing your machine down even if you only print once a year. Perform this service on any computer you touch for the rest of your life. They’ll thank you for it.

Installing HPs properly in the future

I teach intermediate techies all the time (Including the tech staff at VLO!)  how to prevent this in the future. Luckily, this bloatware is easily preventable by you, dear Teknosophy reader:

1: If you’re Using Windows 7, there’s a chance you’ll get away easily. Many of the HP OfficeJets I’ve used With W7 are detected properly and “just work” when you plug them in – for both printing and scanning. No need for any HP software whatsoever. Ahhh, that’s better!

2: Basic Driver on HP’s website – If that didn’t work for you, and you’re connected via USB (no fancy networking), you can visit support.hp.com, and type in the product name.

It should then show you the product, and you can click Software & Driver Downloads, and select your Operating System (e.g. Windows XP or Windows 7). In the list you’ll see “Basic Print Driver” (see second entry in the example below) – Check the details and make sure it allows for scanning. It may also be called “Basic Print and Scan Driver.”

Obtaining the Full Driver

If installing that Basic driver didn’t work, or if your printer is a Wireless/Network printer, you’ll need the Full Driver. In this case you must use the driver CD, or download the Full Feature Software and Driver from the website.

Again, in order to download a driver from HP’s website, simply go to support.hp.com and type in your product name. Pick your Operating System, then select the Full Featured Driver and let it download.

Here We Go

After you pop the CD in (or begin the Full Featured Driver install), it’ll come up and ask you if you want to download updates. The answer, of course, is Absolutely Not:

Next, it will ask you to choose Recommended or Custom Install. Make sure Custom is selected.

Unfortunately, the newer printers are MUCH SNEAKIER. They won’t ask you if you’d like to perfom a Custom Install – you’ll have to look for the very fine print:

If you’re faced with the Where’s Waldo page window above, locate “HP software* to be installed, click here to customize” and click on it. From there, you’ll be able to disable all the bloatware:

For fun, get a pair of binoculars out and try and read the fine print at the asterisk. Scary ain’t it? After it’s all unchecked, hit OK and proceed with installation as normal.

As always, I like to enlighten my customers as to what’s going on. If the details are too overwhelming, no sweat, just call me for an appointment.

Conclusion

In recent years HP has maintained its position as the leader in PC sales, and is a giant in home printer sales. It’s a given that home printers nowadays are shoddy, hollow pieces of throwaway tech. (I miss my HP DeskJet and OfficeJet from 1995 – those things were built like tanks!) However, not every printer company so boldly takes advantage of its customers like HP does with its suite of bloatware. Think about that next time you’re in the office supply store. I know I will.

Take note, marketing bobbleheads. Take many notes. I work on the front lines; I know what customers ACTUALLY experience.

UPDATE!!!

Check out all the crap HP has to open up ports for in Windows Firewall – In other words, all of these HP programs call home for the purpose of letting HP into your machine!

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This entry was posted in Hardware, PoliTechs, Uncategorized, Windows. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Spy vs. Spy

  1. Pingback: HP And Bloatware – Still Up To The Same Old Tricks | Bruceb News

  2. Marcin says:

    Thanks for that. I agree so much with you. I will NEVER EVER buy a HP printer again. After I unstalled that junk bloatware from my PC it said that it will complete uninstallation once I restart my PC but guess what? Once it clicked OK it automatically restarted my laptop without any consideration of my data not being saved. I lost so much time because of those imbeciles.

  3. Pingback: Boycott Linksys | Teknosophy

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