Is this a solution to crapware on Windows PCs?

DDNi's SmileDock may be the industry-friendly answer

Icons for trial software and Web services, colorfully known as "crapware," cover new Windows desktops like pockmarks on the face of a Hollywood villain.

Consumers hate crapware because it steals storage space and creates clutter. Microsoft is no fan either, as consumers blame Windows for running sluggishly, even when crapware is the cause.

Even software vendors and Web site operators who pay big bucks to PC vendors to install crapware on their PCs are becoming disenchanted, according to Michael Kuptz, CEO of Digital Delivery Networks, because of low returns of less than 5 percent sell-through rate.

Yet crapware has an almost zero chance of going away. "Frankly, it's how the OEMs offset price erosion," said Kuptz, who should know, having spent two decades at IBM and Lenovo as a PC hardware manager. Before coming to DDNi, he was vice president and general manager of Lenovo's US consumer PC division.

The company is touting its solution called SmileDock. A thin toolbar that resides at the bottom of the Windows desktop and expands when clicked on into a full-fledged control panel, the SmileDock offers infomercial-type content on software and Web services chosen by the PC maker interspersed with free navigation and management features.

The latter is aimed at mainstream PC users, such as the archetypal 42-year-old soccer mom, Kuptz said.

The SmileDock won't install software or jump to a Web site until a user requests it. That avoids "sending out PCs with four to 500 MB of pre-loaded crapware," he said.

It is being used by Lenovo with its latest batch of IdeaPad consumer notebook PCs and other vendors. It has been shipped on half a million PCs in the last eight months.

DDNi was heavily marketing the latest version of SmileDock at the recent International CES trade show, as its deal with Lenovo is non-exclusive, Kuptz said. "We are actively engaged with every OEM," he said.

DDNi's business model is to share revenue with PC makers from all software or Web subscriptions sold through the SmileDock.

A number of PC vendors have built their own dashboards similar to the SmileDock, Kuptz said. Hewlett-Packard, for instance, has its Total Care, he said.

But the SmileDock offers several advantages, Kuptz said. Installing the SmileDock is faster for a PC maker than creating its own custom dashboard. DDNi also brings relationships with many software vendors, so that PC vendors don't need to seek and negotiate every single one.

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