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Bloatware is software that has unnecessary features that use large amounts of memory and RAM. Software comes to be known as bloatware when it becomes so unwieldy that its functionality is drowned out by its useless features. This is also known as software bloat.
Bloatware is also a slang term for numerous programs that are pre-installed on new PCs. Many of these programs are "lite" or limited trial versions designed to entice new users to buy or subscribe to the full-featured versions.
Bloatware usually occurs as a result of feature creep. Because software is traditionally redesigned on a yearly basis, many developers feel the need to add additional functionality in order to entice users into upgrading the existing software. Unfortunately, the added features increase the size of the program and the system requirements needed to run it smoothly, eventually forcing the user to upgrade in order to run the latest software.
Cloud-based, software as a service subscription models are seen as alternatives to bloatware because they reduce the need to resell products in the form of an annual update.
Bloatware was pervasive in the 1990s as software companies made arrangements with manufacturers to get their products pre-installed on PCs. Sometimes these pre-installed programs were even set to launch at start-up, slowing down machines. Pop-ups, purchase reminders, conflicting applications and increasingly hostile consumer reactions have made pre-installing less attractive to vendors.
When bloatware practices were at their peak, some consumers were even paying retailers to uninstall all the unwanted bloatware. Trial versions of some common programs are still pre-installed, but consumers can generally opt-in or out before purchasing.