A reader email this week has me thinking about Microsoft’s Signature PC program and whether this is still a recommended source for clean PCs.
Here’s the email, from Jeff G.
Paul, It is time to stop extolling the virtues of Signature PCs. At one point (especially Windows 7) they were a great concept. Since the advent of Windows 10 their only benefit is less crapware, not no crapware. Whether it’s Candy Crush, MS Office Trial, Skype, MS News, Sports, Finance – you get the point. Even a clean install of Windows 10 from an MS ISO doesn’t get rid of all of that junk. It has taken me at least an hour/PC to clean all of that off the Start Menu and then off the PC altogether. MS no longer gets a pass for all the junk and ads it has been bombarding us with at the system level. MS Signature is no longer a great, clean PC.
Signature has always been constrained by what the Windows team puts in the OS: It cannot strip out something that is part of the stock image. But to give Microsoft some credit, the addition of the Refresh Windows tool makes all of this a lot less painful. And perhaps makes Signature redundant.
So let me expand on this.
First of all, the Signature PC program has in fact changed in one crucial way. As you may know, I’ve now done two focus group studies for Microsoft Signature and most recently wrote about this in May 2016. But since that time, the guiding force behind Signature was laid off by Microsoft, and my sources tell me that the impetus was a need to stop being so restrictive to PC makers. For example, they will at some point allow PC makers to bundle the anti-virus software they prefer on Signature PCs. I do think this is a mistake.
Secondly, it is fair to note that Signature cannot remove software that Microsoft ships withWindows 10. You and I may believe that Candy Crush and whatever other nonsense that comes with Windows 10 today is crapware—and it is—but it still comes with Windows. Here, Signature is as constrained as a PC maker when it comes to this bundled software. They can’t do anything about it, and never could. That much hasn’t changed. (I think the real frustration Jeff has is with Windows 10, not Signature.)
Third, as noted above, the addition of the Refresh Windows tool is a nice addition to the Windows 10 user’s toolbox. No, it doesn’t remove the crapware that Microsoft ships with Windows 10. But you could always remove that crapware and then do a system image backup if taking 10 minutes to remove that stuff is such a big deal. I don’t find it to be, personally.
But to the central question here, does Signature PC still matter?
Yes. The answer is yes.
In a perfect world, a Signature PC would be a truly Clean PC as I define it, with no crapware. No crapware from Microsoft. And no AV from a PC maker trying to make a cheap buck.
We don’t live in a perfect world. And Signature PC is still a better proposition, especially for the non-technical users who make up the majority of the customer base. These PCs are tuned to work efficiently and reliably out of the box. They are cleaner than the PCs provided elsewhere. They will continue to work well, for longer, than other PCs, and don’t suffer from the “PC rot” that so many complain about. They are not perfect. But they are better.
For the technical users out there—readers of this site, for example—you will always have the Refresh Windows tool to fall back on. And while the Windows 10 crapware bundling issue is real, it’s easily overcome.
I’m not saying this isn’t worth debating. In fact, it’s an important discussion. But Signature PC is still great, and ay Windows 10 user can have a truly Clean PC. That’s good news all around.