Microsoft now offers a program that charges $99 to basically move items to the recycle bin for you. They call it Microsoft Signature and they say it "makes your PC fly." How? By deleting third party stuff that PC manufacturers put on computers. Signature machines get special clean-up treatment that removes this stuff. Users can either buy these better PCs direct from the Microsoft store, or give their Windows 7 PCs to Windows and have it souped-up -- for $99. Even if it does improve performance by up to 25 seconds, as The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, who tried out some models, reports, this service is most definitely not worth almost one hundred dollars. "The margins weren’t dramatic," writes Mossberg. And even if they were. You can do this without giving $100 to Windows.
It's not that there isn't a difference between the Signature and all other Microsoft machines. Here's what the cleaned up version looks like, from Mossberg.
The Signature desktop, which is labeled “Microsoft Signature,” features a picture of a sunset over a lake as its wallpaper. It contains no icons other than the recycling bin. The Taskbar contains only icons for Internet Explorer, the Explorer file browser, and Microsoft’s free email, photo and moviemaking programs. The system tray, to the right of the Taskbar, contains only the bare minimum of items, such as the network and battery indicators.
Signature machines are also configured with battery, audio and touch-pad settings Microsoft considers optimal. The usual third-party security software—which is typically provided for only 30 to 90 days, makes you go through some setup, and nags you to subscribe—is replaced by Microsoft’s own Security Essentials program, which is free, required no registration or subscription and updates itself automatically.
Microsoft removes all those icons next to the desktop that come pre-loaded on your PC. The HP machine that Mossberg got, for example, had some HP assistant software and "come-ons" for music and game programs. Basically, you pay to get rid of stuff that you didn't want in the first place. A lot of this is replaced with Microsoft's offerings, with Windows altogether removing the most annoying things. Though, at least one commenter on Mossberg's post says Microsoft removed some useful tools, such as the Adobe suite that came with his high-end HP.
Without all the junk, Mossberg did see minor improvements in performance, but that's not really what makes this a not-worth-the-money set-up. This is barely a service. Most computer users could do this for free, as Mossberg concedes. "Many can be turned off, or removed, by a user with sufficient skill and time," he writes. The service also comes with 90 days of free phone support and access to the the stores’ Answer Desks," Microsoft's version of Apple's Genius bars. That stuff comes complimentary with Apple's machines. And Apple Care, bumps that up to three years for an extra $169.
At 100 bucks a pop, Microsoft isn't just doing this to make money off of some suckers. It's their attempt at taking control of computers that run their software. They get to put their stuff on there, rather than the HP or Lenovo or whatever hardware manufacturer users choose. Of course, if Microsoft made its own hardware, like Apple, it wouldn't have this issue.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.