Last Thursday, various security research groups posted their findings about the potential impact of Lenovo adding “adware” from Superfish to various models of consumer laptops they have sold since last September. The gist of the problem is Superfish apparently hijacks certain certificates needed to access various ads and can redirect them in many inappropriate ways. Some researchers have even suggested it served as a wiretap although that seems to be a stretch as to what Superfish does and can do.
However, Lenovo quickly owned up to the fact they did not do enough research into the way Superfish went about trying to get to ads faster and has now given users ways to remove Superfish from their machines — installed in over a million PCs. Here are two links that give more details on the story if you want clarification.
“Lenovo slipped ‘Superfish’ malware into laptops”
“Lenovo releases tool to purge Superfish ‘crapware'”
Hopefully, Lenovo can rebound from this and move on but it has caused serious damage to their image and, over time, that must be repaired too. While this has been bad for Lenovo, it will ultimately be a good thing for consumers. All PC vendors add various software to their PCs as a way to try to differentiate themselves from the competition. While they can’t alter the Windows OS, they can put what they call “value added software” on these machines to try and give users applications and services that make their overall user experience better.
Unfortunately over the years, PC vendors overdid this and most of these add-ons are considered by users to be crapware. The bottom line is most users don’t even use these add-ons and often seek to jettison them from their machines as soon as they find them. Of course, there have been cases where these add-on programs are helpful, especially in areas like music, photo management and security.
I suspect what has happened to Lenovo will now put the fear of the Consumer Gods into all PC vendors and trigger, at least, three key things when thinking of adding extra software and services to their PCs. The first is all PC vendors will go the extra mile to study any program they are considering for inclusion on a PC to help them add value and differentiate their PC from the competition. Their motto needs to be “Do No Harm” and live by it.
The second is it should force them into a minimalist approach even if they do decide to preload extra software on PCs. The third would be to not include any special software that, for most consumers, is considered crapware and just sell them the cleanest PC possible.
I fear this third item is probably not going to happen and the first two will be how they approach this issue. PC makers do need to differentiate their offerings and the only way they really can do this, besides industrial design, is in software. That is why the minimalist approach may be the best option.
Lenovo has learned a valuable lesson the hard way and, besides warding off lawsuits over this, they will need to work harder to repair their image and gain greater favor with consumers if they hope to thrive and keep growing.
But for the PC industry in general, it will provide a powerful reminder that the past business practice of preloading software is not a great idea for the future. Let’s hope they learn this lesson and abide by it.