As any IT pro who supports end users knows, the question, "Why does my computer take so long to boot up?" is a common one. The surprising thing is that at this time of year, I hear this question from lots of folks who have purchased brand new computers and have yet to install any software on them.

I've seen many a brand-new computer that takes close to 5 minutes to completely boot; the amount of stuff that gets loaded into memory by default on these machines can be simply mind-boggling. This situation results from vendors' desire to compel users to use as many of the vendors' products as possible.

A quick look at a few new small office/home office (SOHO) and consumer-targeted computers that are sitting around my office validates my position. One of these machines loads more than 40 non-OS-required pieces of software while the user waits for the console to come up. A few of these tools are necessities, such as antivirus and antispyware software, but even so, the versions loaded are rarely stripped down for performance. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case: There are lots of attendant accessories and features that the average user will never use or need.

A recent experience with setting up brand new notebooks for my children had me spending about 2 hours per machine uninstalling all sorts of fundamentally useless applications and tools and replacing them with licensed versions of utilities and software that I knew my kids would use (or that would work without their continued input; an important feature for crucial tools such as antivirus and antispyware programs). I was particularly annoyed by the AOL uninstaller, which, when I attempted to remove the "free" AOL software, caused the blue screen of death on both computers, forcing me to remove all of the AOL components manually.

Yesterday, I found myself doing the same thing for an adult friend who asked for assistance getting her new computer and wireless network connection up and running. She is an educated professional with a Ph.D. in the neurosciences, yet the most she could figure out was that she didn't need all of the icons that say "Install Me!" However, she knew that there had to be some way to get the computer to boot more quickly.

Because I prefer to educate rather than simply function as unpaid tech support, I walked her through what I was doing and what I was uninstalling as I worked on her computer. As I launched the system configuration utility (msconfig.exe), I pointed out the items that we found under the Startup tab, explaining what they were and why (or why not) they needed to be there. I then took her to the Startup folder and pointed out that, although there were useful applications being launched, most of them didn't need to be launched at startup. I also explained that deleting the shortcuts found in this folder didn't delete the applications, and I showed her where to find the applications so she could use them as needed.

The problem, of course, is that I shouldn't have had to do this. Vendors who attempt to make as many applications available as possible should include clear instructions for their removal, or simply make such applications available on a companion CD-ROM. Instead, they clutter up the desktop by cramming it with every possible application, many of which conflict with one another or offer duplicate ways of doing the same thing.