Sunday, 29 January 2006

Bundled Software

Having recently bought a new PC, I thought tonight I would talk about bundling. No, I am not talking about the strange, Early Colonial custom practised by the Yankees. Instead I am talking about the practice of selling software as part of a package, in particular as part of an operating system such as Windows. Two prime examples of bundled software are Internet Explorer and RealPlayer, which I swear has been a part of Windows at least since 95.

Bundling software is nothing new. In fact, the first instance of a computer being sold with bundled software was all the way back in 1981. That year the Osborne Computer Corporation introduced the first portable PC to see any kind of success. Among other things, the Osborne-1 included bundled software. Naturally, other computer companies followed suit. Indeed, I can remember in the days of MS-DOS, many computers came with WordPerfect already installed.

While bundling software has been around almost as long as PCs have, it has also been a source of controversy at times. In 1997 Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer 4 (quite possibly the worst browser known to man...). Naturally, it was bundled with Windows. Indeed, not only was it bundled with Windows, it was fully integrated with the operating system (as Internet Explorer still is today). This would lead to accusations that Microsoft unfairly used the Windows operating system as a means to defeat Netscape in the browser wars. Ultimately it would lead to a court case filed against Microsoft on May 18, 1998 by the United States Department of Justice, henceforth known as the United States Vs. Microsoft.

Quite frankly, to me Internet Explorer 4 is a perfect case of software being bundled with an operating system that either one does not like or does not use. At that time I was a loyal follower of Netscape Communicator. I downloaded it onto my old PC at the soonest available opportunity. I would have been much happier if Microsoft had simply included Netscape with Windows 98. Of course, I might not have objected to Internet Explorer 4 so much if it was not, in my humble opinion, the worst browser ever created in the history of man. Maybe in the history of the universe. It would crash. It would lock the PC up. It would crash the PC. And it seems as if I wasn't the only one this would happen to. I knew a lot of people with bad experiences with Internet Explorer 4. I was so relieved when Microsoft came out with Internet Explorer 5 (AKA the "patch for Internet Explorer 4....").

While I might have used Internet Explorer 4 if it hadn't been so darn buggy, there is other software that is bundled with Windows that I simply don't use. The prime examples of this are Microsoft Money and Quicken. I don't have any use for either of these progammes. After all, I balance my books the old fashioned way--with pen, cheque book, and ATM (okay, the ATM isn't that old fashioned....). Of course, this points to another problem with bundling software. Often times there will be two (or more--see below) programmes that duplicate each other in their functions. Why anyone would need both Quicken and Microsoft Money, I have no idea....

Indeed, my new PC demonstrates this phenomenon perfectly. Not only do I have Windows Media Player and RealPlayer, but I also have two (maybe three, for all I know...) other programes which can play audio and video files! Now why anyone would need so many media programmes, I don't know, but they came bundled on the computer....

I wouldn't find such duplication, triplication, and even quadruplication of programmes with similar functions so annoying if it wasn't for the fact that my new PC did not come with programmes that I would either use or even need. While I have four programmes with which to play MP3s, I don't have any graphics programmes (Paint does not count...). Would it really have hurt them to have bundled Paint Shop Pro with the computer? I mean, it would be nice to have a means to create and edit images (as in logos, buttons, et. al. for web sites). Of course, Paint Shop Pro is just a luxury for me. It's not like I don't have it on my old PC, but I would have really appreciated FTP software. As a webmaster I absolutely need it. After all, I do upload files to my web site at times. I had to download WS FTP as soon as possible.

Of course, one can get the programmes he or she wants through one of the direct order companies (companies such as Dell and Gateway that sell directly to the customer). When one orders a PC directly from a company, he or she has some choice in what programmes come with their computer. If he or she wants Firefox on their PC, chances are they can get it. Unfortunately, direct order is not a solution for those of us who prefer to buy their PCs at Best Buy or WalMart...

Ultimately, I suppose that what is bundled with PCs is largely dictated by what is popular at the time. For the past few years downloading music has become an outright fad. For that reason I have more than one programme on my PC that can handle audio files. A few years ago, when the World Wide Web was still fairly young and novel, one could find FTP programmes and even multiple browsers bundled on computers. I guess since PC manufacturers and Microsoft will probably always pay attention to what is popular, the only way consumers will get the software they want is to make their voices heard. I rather suspect if a large number of computer users made it known that they wanted a graphics programme with their PC, we might well see Paint Shop Pro bundled on more machines...

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