Hardware as a Trojan horse for software services

(My experiences with the new HP scanjet 4600)

I just today bought an HP scanjet 4600 scanner. Its the new scanner that you can just put on top of your document and look through it to position it. Great idea.

However, I was much less impressed with the software. Not that the software didn't do what I needed it to do - but the fact that it came with all kinds of crap that it ensures is there. I unchecked absolutely everything I could uncheck on the install - selecting the bare minimum install. I'm still stuck with 118 megs of crud on my system, maybe 10 of which are actually needed.

The rest I have on my system is:

I then went into add and remove programs. Of all the crud I just ended up with, the only thing i could remove was he 'HP memories disk' software. Mind you, I hadn't selected that I wanted this software, I just got it.

The rest of it I could only remove alltogether, and thus render my scanner unusable.

So then I remembered that for my old HP Photosmart scanner, the driver I got for it off the web was much more focused than the stuff that came on the CD, and I tried to find a driver for my HP 4600 scanner on HP's web site. Alas, HP doesn't have a driver on their website. They did have a form for ordering a new CD, but that would presumably have all the crap that came on the first CD.

So then I decided to call product support. for several reasons:

The support person was actually somebody not from India (give them credit for that), but he couldn't really help me. He suggested I go to the website, I pointed out that I already tried this. He indicated it may be a few months before drivers would appear on the website - once people start losing their product CDs.

I asked why I needed the 'share to web' thingy with my scanner. He said it was a vital part of the scanner software. Excuse me? I bought this thing to scan, not to put pictures on the web. How can putting pictures on the web be vital to scanning?

So now what to do? Well, I looked in the process table and killed the extra processes started by HP, and then deleted them from the registry. Twain scanning still worked. but that's not a good solution. Deleting the files of the Album thingy didn't work, the program fetched them again from the CD and put them on my computer. I haven't finished this battle yet.

If another manufacturer had a see through scanner like that, I would take this scanner back, but luckily for HP, nobody else has one like that. There is a 'corporate install' on the CD in a directory not accessible from the GUI, but its for XP only. One of the reasons I don't use XP is for the very same practices that annoyed me about the scanner software. Hopefully, in a few months, there will be a downloadable driver. And unless they want to mave a 100 meg 'driver' download, its bound to come with less nonsense than what I got.

Anyway, that brings me to my theory of an emerging trend:

Hardware is a Trojan horse for Software services

Perhaps HP isn't making any money on that scanner at all. Perhaps its merely a vehicle for forcing a lot of unwanted software onto people's computer, in the hope that people will click on it by accident, and then register and pay them money by accident too.

A lot of this software isn't even HP's. I'm thinking, how much does HP get for this? Just like Microsoft used to put the AOL setup icon on people's machines as part of some deal with AOL way back.

Certainly, margins on hardware are small, but software can be hugely profitable, if you can sell it. It could be like the printer 'consumables' scam - one that HP is quite expert at. But with a scanner, there is no consumables. Maybe $200 is not enough, and they rely on a certain percentage of suckers to pay for more services.

At any rate, a disturbing trend. but if enough people get annoyed about this and give companies like HP negative feedback over it, surely it will stop. But what if people are complacent? Most people are, it seems. So do your part: If you encounter this sort of thing, at the very least call support and let them know your frustrations. If just one in ten buyers do this, I'm sure the practice will stop.

Certainly, people are saying this sort of behaviour is what is killing RealNetworks. When I saw the articles about this recently, I couldn't agree more. As much as I want to give competitors to Microsoft a chance, their old software was just too buggy, and there was just too many nags and unwanted crap with the new software that on my new PC, I no longer installed their software.

Apple's quicktime software is not much better. But I found salvation at least on that front: Quick Time Alternative. No more QuickTime nags! Yay!

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