Where can you buy a PC without the bloatware, shovelware, or adware that's characterized Lenovo's Superfish fiasco? Microsoft has an answer for you: its little-known Signature Edition laptops.
For only a few dollars more than what you'd pay for a laptop from Asus, Dell, Lenovo, or other manufacturers, Microsoft offers a stripped-down notebook with just the latest version of Windows on board, which it claims is "tuned for performance."
"When you buy a new PC at Microsoft Store, we ensure there's no third-party junkware or trialware installed," Microsoft's Signature Edition Web site says.
Toolbars, spyware, utilities and other unwanted apps reside on your hard drive in typical boxed computers, periodically popping up ads and/or enticements for you to subscribe to their services. They also can slow down your PC with hidden processes that run in the background.
Microsoft's Signature Editions fill an odd niche in the computing universe, offering a product that the computer manufacturers themselves don't deliver: a "clean," optimized PC. In effect, the Signature Edition is the Google Nexus brand of the PC world, presenting Microsoft's operating system in the best possible light. But instead of one or two Nexus phones or tablets, Microsoft handpicks some of the best PCs: We counted sixteen mainstream laptops and eight additional gaming PCs on the site. Microsoft's Surface PCs also ship without bloatware installed.
A clean PC, a competitive price
Even better, Microsoft offers a competitive price for its services. For example, Dell charges $799 for a Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1 PC, while Microsoft charges $829 for the same laptop with identical specs. Microsoft support staff say that PCs they sell come with a one-year manufacturer warranty, and a Microsoft Complete service package extends that for an additional two years, complete with Answer Desk support and protection from accidental damage.
Rather than bundling in time-limited free trial for third-party antivirus solution, Signature Edition PCs ship with Windows Defender, Microsoft's own antivirus/antispyware software--which admittedly falls woefully behind other free antivirus offerings. Windows Defender is enabled by default in Windows 8, but hardware vendors have the option to disable it to include AV trialware. (And if you're concerned that a Lenovo PC purchased through Microsoft might have Superfish installed--which it doesn't--Windows Defender now removes it, anyway.)
Microsoft's Signature Edition laptops have actually been sold since May of 2012--almost three years. You can buy them online or in physical Microsoft Stores, meaning that you can test-drive that new PC yourself, just like at a Best Buy or other computer store. Microsoft used to offer a service where you could bring in a Windows 7 PC and have them essentially convert it to a "Signature Edition" PC for $99; a Microsoft Store representative said that policy is not formally in place, but that in-store techs will also assist with removing bloatware as well as viruses.
Why this matters: Let's face it: Buying a computer in an electronics store stinks. Not only will you be pressured into buying a service contract, but you'll need to weed out all the unwanted programs that your new PC ships with. (PCWorld's guide to blasting bloatware off your PC can help with that.) Microsoft doesn't offer very many budget PCs, and its physical stores aren't that easily found. Still, the Signature Edition laptops offer a shopping experience that's pretty darn appealing.