Microsoft Signature: Sweet Deal Or Overpriced Scam?
May 17, 2012

Microsoft Signature: Sweet Deal Or Overpriced Scam?

A two-year-old Microsoft program meant to streamline Windows PCs, giving them a "cleaner look and better performance" by removing third-party software, is receiving increased attention as the Redmond, Washington-based tech giant is touting the service as an advantage over Apple's operating system.

The "Microsoft Signature" program costs $99 and can be purchased at any of the company's retail stores or through its online marketplace, and is designed to help eliminate system slowdown by eliminating utilities that duplicate built-in functions, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal explained in a Wednesday article.

Customized Signature-series computers, pre-streamlined and complete with special desktops and configurations, are also available online or at Microsoft stores at approximately the same price as their stock-version counterparts, Mossberg added. They also come with three months of free phone and in-store tech support, he added.

Mossberg conducted speed tests of three Signature model computers -- one each from Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Samsung -- and compared them to their non-Signature counterparts.

While each of the Signature series computers were faster than the stock version of the same computer, he said that the differences "weren´t dramatic, usually from a few seconds to 25 seconds. On the HP, the differences were especially minimal. Across all three machines, the biggest differences were the time it took to set the PC up out of the box and the time it took to shut down the PC."

"Some important caveats are in order. The hardware makers presumably believe, and some consumers may well agree, that the extra software, utilities and settings, which Microsoft removes or buries, are beneficial," he said. "Some of these, like offers to join game or music services, may be viewed as welcome bonuses. Others, like customized networking utilities, or launchers for the PC makers' own media software, may be viewed as better matched to the hardware, or superior to Microsoft's approach, even though they duplicate Windows functions. Many can be turned off, or removed, by a user with sufficient skill and time."

"Also, Microsoft loads Signature machines with its own add-on software, such as its free email, photo and video programs, its Zune music and video program, and a stripped-down 'Starter' version of Microsoft Office, that includes only Word and Excel, plus ads, and an offer to buy the full version," Mossberg added. "However, the company says the stores will remove any of these a customer doesn't want and even help the customer install competing software, such as Google's Chrome browser, or Apple's iTunes for Windows."

Some other technology experts were far less complementary about the program.

Rebecca Greenfield of the Atlantic Wire called it "a program that charges $99 to basically move items to the recycle bin for you." The Signature series, she wrote Wednesday, is "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," she added.

Likewise, VentureBeat's Ricardo Bilton said that the Signature software is "an arrangement bordering on a racket: PC makers get paid to put the software on computers, and Microsoft gets paid to remove it. Perhaps this questionable situation is part of the reason Microsoft never made it a priority to advertise the offer."

However, Bilton did point out that a Microsoft PR rep clarified to him in a telephone interview that the $99 cost of the program also includes security software, data transfer, and the aforementioned 90 days of tech support.