While we love technology, sometimes its purveyors make our blood boil. We're talking about annoying policies and practices, whether a new PC stuffed with junkware or how we have to switch providers just so we can get a better mobile phone.

We spoke to Apple, Intuit, Sony, Symantec and other offenders in a bid to find out just why these things happen, allthough we didn't always receive good answers (or in Apple's case any answer at all).

So here's our list of the most annoying tech practices, the reasons behind them and the best ways to work around them.

Software sunset policies

Major offenders: Intuit, Microsoft

For Quicken 2005 users, April 30 must have been an incredibly annoying day. That's when Intuit pulled the plug on that version of its money manager, in accordance with the company's discontinuation policy (also known as sunsetting).

Consequently, owners of that product can no longer use Intuit's online bill-pay services, download financial data from their banks, access Quicken.com investing features, get live technical support - shall we go on?

Sure, the software still functions, but with only a fraction of its former capabilities. Your sole recourse is to upgrade to a newer version with features you may not want, an interface you don't recognise, and other changes. On your wallet.

What gives? Why can't you keep using the software you already know, love, and paid for? To hear Intuit tell it, out with the old and in with the new.

"Retirement of online services and live support in older versions of Intuit desktop products allows Intuit to focus its resources on innovation and resources for current and new offerings," says company rep Jodi Reinman. Microsoft Money, which is Quicken's biggest competitor, sunsets even faster, after just two years, and a Microsoft spokesperson offered us a very similar explanation.

In plain English, it costs a company money to maintain and support older products - and of course, someone who is using one of those products isn't spending money on a new one. Sorry, but we can't sympathise. Just as Windows XP users want the option of keeping their OS instead of having to invest in Vista, finance-software users want more than two or three years' worth of functionality from their programs.

The fix: Unfortunately, you can't do much about sunset policies if you want to use the software. Web-based alternatives such as Mint.com, Mvelopes and Quicken Online aren't nearly as full-featured, and all but Mint.com charge monthly fees, so you're not much better off financially than you would be by upgrading every few years. In the meantime, if you're a Quicken 2008 user, mark your calendar for April 30, 2011- the likely discontinuation date for that version.

NEXT PAGE: Banish crapware

  1. Software sunset policies
  2. Crapware on new PCs
  3. Exclusive mobile phone deals
  4. More tech policies that annoy us
  5. Software that encourages you to buy or upgrade
  6. Automated email responses
  7. Preferential support for business customers
  8. Four tech policies we love
  9. What's your most annoying... annoyance?

While we love technology, sometimes its purveyors make our blood boil. We're talking about annoying policies and practices, whether a new PC stuffed with junkware or how we have to switch providers just so we can get a better mobile phone.

Crapware on new PCs

Major offenders: Gateway, HP, Sony

PC vendor logic must work something like this: 'Mammoth hard drives are the norm, so there's ample room for stuffing new systems with trialware, adware, junkware, and other 'ware nobody asked for and hardly anybody ever wants'. Note to computer vendors: Your logic stinks. Let users install the software they want, okay?

Loading a new PC with trialware made a certain amount of sense in the pre-broadband days, when downloading an antivirus utility or game demo took longer than 30 seconds. Now there's simply no excuse for it.

Some vendors are getting the word. Dell, once one of the worst offenders, now gives customers more control over software preloads. But the vendor is alone. In March Sony began charging customers an extra $50 (£25) to remove excess apps from new laptops.

Following a public outcry, the company wisely reversed course, offering its Fresh Start 'software optimisation' feature (read: crapware remover) for free. Regrettably, the offer is currently limited to the Vaio TZ laptop line, though Sony says it will expand the offering this summer.

And, like its competitors, Sony doesn't seem ready to admit that junkware is, in fact, junk. "We bundle industry-leading applications to offer an all-encompassing value proposition to our end users," a company spokesperson says. In other words, garbage is in the eye of the beholder.

Yes, some preloads, such as disc-authoring software and security suites, are worthwhile. But wouldn't it be nice if vendors let you decide?

The fix: Before you attempt to manually uninstall unwanted programs, try the aptly named PC Decrapifier. This freeware utility, born of one user's frustration with a junkified Dell laptop, quickly scans for and optionally uninstalls many common trialware applications. Alternatively let your wallet do the talking: don't buy PCs from vendors that go crazy with the crap and tell them why you're shopping elsewhere.

NEXT PAGE: How to get round being tied to one operator with exclusive mobile phone deals

  1. Software sunset policies
  2. Crapware on new PCs
  3. Exclusive mobile phone deals
  4. More tech policies that annoy us
  5. Software that encourages you to buy or upgrade
  6. Automated email responses
  7. Preferential support for business customers
  8. Four tech policies we love
  9. What's your most annoying... annoyance?

While we love technology, sometimes its purveyors make our blood boil. We're talking about annoying policies and practices, whether a new PC stuffed with junkware or how we have to switch providers just so we can get a better mobile phone.

Exclusivity deals for mobile phones

Major offenders: Apple, O2

When Apple unveiled the iPhone, geek hearts everywhere sang in joyous anticipation-only to be crushed by the news that in the UK O2 would be the device's sole carrier for the foreseeable future. Apple's decision left Vodafone, T-Mobile and 3 customers with no iPhone. Perhaps that wasn't so surprising. Apple exclusivity has existed for years in the form of the iTunes store, which sells songs, TV shows, movies, and the like for playback only on Apple-branded hardware.

When we asked Apple reps why the company elected to stick with a single carrier when it could easily land more customers by supporting others, they referred us via email to an old press release that didn't answer the question. We received no reply, either, to our query on when Apple would allow iPhone buyers to use other carriers (without 'jailbreaking' their phones).

The fix: Rewrite the rules. Unlock your iPhone so that it will work with other GSM/GPRS/EDGE carriers. Adam Pash, coauthor of How to Do Everything with Your iPhone, recommends ZiPhone, an open-source utility that makes simple work of unlocking the handset. Once you've removed the O2 shackles, you can pop in a SIM card from any GSM carrier. Of course, you could always buy a phone from another manufacturer and stick two fingers up at Apple. Have you seen the latest BlackBerry phones? Most of them are available from multiple carriers.

NEXT PAGE: More tech policies that annoy us

  1. Software sunset policies
  2. Crapware on new PCs
  3. Exclusive mobile phone deals
  4. More tech policies that annoy us
  5. Software that encourages you to buy or upgrade
  6. Automated email responses
  7. Preferential support for business customers
  8. Four tech policies we love
  9. What's your most annoying... annoyance?

While we love technology, sometimes its purveyors make our blood boil. We're talking about annoying policies and practices, whether a new PC stuffed with junkware or how we have to switch providers just so we can get a better mobile phone.

Unrecoverable digital music files

Major offenders: Amazon, iTunes

Your hard drive just went to the great storage heap in the sky, taking your entire music collection along with it. Re-ripping songs from your CDs is easy enough, but what about the music you purchased and downloaded from online stores such as AmazonMP3 and iTunes? You paid for those songs, so surely you can just re-download them when necessary, right? Wrong - neither store permits return trips to the well.

Admittedly, you wouldn't expect a bricks-and-mortar seller to replace your CDs if your house burned down. But CDs are tangible goods that cost money to manufacture, ship, and store. Music downloads are mere bits and bytes that require only bandwidth, and there's plenty of that to go around. Why shouldn't you be able to download your songs a second time or even a thirty-second time after you've paid for them?

When we asked, AmazonMP3 spokesperson Heather Huntoon said only that "we recommend customers create a backup copy of their music". She also noted that because all of Amazon's music is sold in MP3 format, you don't have to reauthorise a computer when restoring your tunes. In contrast, iTunes makes you jump through some authorisation hoops to restore even those purchases you've backed up.

And speaking of iTunes, Apple utterly ignored all our inquiries on this subject. We've heard anecdotal evidence that the company's customer-service reps will sometimes replace lost purchases, but that isn't the same thing as a store policy that tells customers "don't worry, we've got your back".

The fix: As Amazon's Huntoon says, back up your music. You can store up to 25GB worth of stuff online for free at MediaMax or 50GB at ADrive, though you should be prepared to invest considerable time uploading everything. And consider shopping elsewhere: Napster and Rhapsody have no problem letting you re-download music you've purchased. Both services also offer a subscription option that allows unlimited downloads from their substantial libraries, another worthwhile insurance policy against lost music collections.

NEXT PAGE: Software that encourages you to buy or upgrade

  1. Software sunset policies
  2. Crapware on new PCs
  3. Exclusive mobile phone deals
  4. More tech policies that annoy us
  5. Software that encourages you to buy or upgrade
  6. Automated email responses
  7. Preferential support for business customers
  8. Four tech policies we love
  9. What's your most annoying... annoyance?

While we love technology, sometimes its purveyors make our blood boil. We're talking about annoying policies and practices, whether a new PC stuffed with junkware or how we have to switch providers just so we can get a better mobile phone.

Software that nags you to buy or upgrade

Major offenders: Intuit, McAfee, Symantec

Talk about irony, McAfee Internet Security and similar applications aim to simplify your life by protecting your PC, but they annoy the heck out of you in the process. They never stop nagging you to upgrade to a bigger, better version or to renew your subscription (even though it doesn't expire for another six months). It's like dealing with a pesky little kid who's always demanding your attention.

Larry Campbell, a retired US Air Force captain, recently found himself nagged to distraction by software maker McAfee. Although his antivirus utility's subscription wasn't due to expire until May of this year, the company started campaigning for a renewal last October, sending no fewer than eight email alerts, enough to prompt his decision: "I am not renewing," he says, "but will switch to another company in May."

If such non-stop nagging can actually drive customers away, why do companies do it? McAfee's explanation is about what you'd expect. "McAfee sends promotional offers to subscribers that feature discounts on the current product they have subscribed to and/or discounts on suites that offer additional levels of protection," said a company rep. "We want consumers to remain protected and not experience any lapses in protection." The rep went on to note that customers can easily opt out of such offers by unsubscribing. She also apologised for annoying Campbell with all the email.

The fix: Unfortunately, nagging seems to be a part of modern computing. Any company that has taken your money once will work hard to take more of it. You can always try freeware alternatives such as Avast 4 Home Edition and Avira AntiVir Personal offer robust virus protection, for instance, but don't be surprised if you get nagged to buy their commercial counterparts.

Full screen ads that precede home pages

Major offenders: CareerBuilder, Monster

You head to your favourite site in search of the latest news, only to be stopped cold by some lame splash-screen advertisement or you visit a job site to peruse the latest postings, but a come-on for a resume builder or an online degree program intervenes -and it isn't just a pop-up, either, but a full-screen blockade.

Sure, these 'interstitial'or 'transitional' ads pay for your free content and services - PC Advisor couldn't exist in its current, free form without the advertising we carry. But there's a limit, right?

"They're no different than commercial breaks, and most users are willing to accept advertising to not pay for content," says Pesach Lattin, CEO of ad agency Vizi. But can't marketers wait until we get to the site before bombarding us?

The fix: Firefox users should try the Adblock Plus Extension, which suppresses not only button and banner ads but also transitional ads. Internet Explorer 7 users can find similar capabilities in IE7Pro. Meanwhile, advertisers take note: you could grab more eyeballs by creating ads that make us want to watch. Show us something funny or surprising. Offer a freebie. Visitors may click past the ad anyway, but at least make an effort!

NEXT PAGE: Automated email responses

  1. Software sunset policies
  2. Crapware on new PCs
  3. Exclusive mobile phone deals
  4. More tech policies that annoy us
  5. Software that encourages you to buy or upgrade
  6. Automated email responses
  7. Preferential support for business customers
  8. Four tech policies we love
  9. What's your most annoying... annoyance?

While we love technology, sometimes its purveyors make our blood boil. We're talking about annoying policies and practices, whether a new PC stuffed with junkware or how we have to switch providers just so we can get a better mobile phone.

Automated email responses

Major offenders: Too many to list

The scan function on your multifunction printer won't work. You fire off an email to the manufacturer's tech-support department, and a few minutes later a reply lands in your inbox. Wow, fast service! Suspiciously fast, in fact: turns out it's just an automated response acknowledging receipt of your message. Or a boilerplate list of common questions and answers, none of which apply. Talk about tossing a boat anchor to the man who has just fallen overboard.

Bob Cameron, a systems administrator, needed Yahoo's help with an email problem: the service was blocking messages sent from his church to members with Yahoo accounts. So he visited Yahoo's support site, spent considerable time collecting the information that Yahoo requires for reporting an issue, and submitted his help request.

In return, he received a canned response "asking me for the same information that I had already spent all that time collecting and editing". When he tried again, another response promised a personal answer within 48 hours (it never came) and directed him to the very site where he'd submitted the support request in the first place.

Seems like tech companies are doing more canning than Heinz. We contacted Yahoo and received no response. We also got the silent treatment from HP, another company that dispatches canned replies to requests for help.

The fix: Believe it or not, we're willing to cut companies a little slack on this one, as support departments receive huge volumes of help requests, and a canned response at least assures you that your mail arrived.

But when companies promise a personal follow-up, they'd better deliver. If the company doesn't answer your queries, you can always call tech support, or try a live online-chat session, if that's an option. In fact, both alternatives should yield much faster and more efficient results than email.

NEXT PAGE: Preferential support for business customers

  1. Software sunset policies
  2. Crapware on new PCs
  3. Exclusive mobile phone deals
  4. More tech policies that annoy us
  5. Software that encourages you to buy or upgrade
  6. Automated email responses
  7. Preferential support for business customers
  8. Four tech policies we love
  9. What's your most annoying... annoyance?

While we love technology, sometimes its purveyors make our blood boil. We're talking about annoying policies and practices, whether a new PC stuffed with junkware or how we have to switch providers just so we can get a better mobile phone.

Preferential support for business customers

Major offender: Dell

You buy a PC from a vendor's home-user division, only to discover that the support reps barely speak English, know less about the product than you do, and fail to help you solve your problem. That's what happened to Dave Johnson, who has been living in tech-support hell since he purchased a high-end Dell XPS 720 desktop last autumn.

The system blue-screens "at least once per day," Johnson says. Although Dell has replaced the system twice, each new machine behaves the same, and help seems nowhere to be found: "Every time I call tech support, a level-one rep walks me through the same basic troubleshooting steps, even if they've been tried a dozen times before." Promises to escalate the problem to a higher level never pan out.

Too bad Johnson didn't buy from Dell's business division. Ben Popken of consumer-advocacy site The Consumerist says there's "a world of difference" in the level of support that Dell's business customers receive. "Dell's small-business department is based in English-speaking countries, and the techs are friendly, fast, and knowledgeable. They've even called me days after the tech call was over to check in and make sure everything is okay."

But on the occasions when Popken inadvertently dialed the 'home' support line, "the reps read off scripts, didn't listen, and didn't solve problems", he says.

The company refuses to acknowledge any disparity in support for its home and business lines. "Dell provides quality support for all our customers all over the world," says rep Tara Giovinco, adding that Dell has english-speaking country-based support centres for consumers as well as business customers. We don't think that's going to make Johnson feel any better.

The fix: Don't buy PCs from companies that have poor support ratings. And don't automatically head to an etailer's home/home-office pages; you may find identical (or nearly identical) products in the small-business section of the site at comparable prices.

Small product, big box

Major offenders: Amazon

You buy a flash drive, a memory card, a Bluetooth headset or some other small item from a mail-order company, and the box that arrives on your doorstep looks large enough to accommodate a laser printer. But it's no mistake: you find your item inside amidst a boxful of packing material.

Talk about wasteful! Not only are the oversize boxes excessive, they also consume an inordinate amount of space on the planes and trucks that are used to deliver them. That leaves less space for other packages, meaning fewer packages per delivery vehicle, more overall trips, more wasted fuel, and, consequently, higher shipping prices for you.

What's up with the big boxes? Amazon rep Patty Smith admits that it's a problem that needs fixing. "We know consumers are frustrated by [oversize] boxes, and we're working on it," she says.

To that end, Amazon recently developed software designed to determine which box size is appropriate for any given item, and claims a "significant decrease" in the number of purchases shipped in "wrong-size" boxes. Let's hope other sellers follow suit, because using man-size boxes for mouse-size items is just plain wrong.

The fix: Let your voice be heard! Email the offending companies and tell them you're done shopping there until they mend their environmentally unfriendly ways. Of course, you could always buy from a local retailer and avoid shipping boxes altogether. (While you're at it, skip the bag, too.)

NEXT PAGE: Four tech policies we love

  1. Software sunset policies
  2. Crapware on new PCs
  3. Exclusive mobile phone deals
  4. More tech policies that annoy us
  5. Software that encourages you to buy or upgrade
  6. Automated email responses
  7. Preferential support for business customers
  8. Four tech policies we love
  9. What's your most annoying... annoyance?

While we love technology, sometimes its purveyors make our blood boil. We're talking about annoying policies and practices, whether a new PC stuffed with junkware or how we have to switch providers just so we can get a better mobile phone.

Four company habits we love

Not all tech companies and practices annoy us. In fact, we found five examples of downright exemplary behavior, the kind we wish other businesses would emulate.

Credit is due

In February, US movie-rental pioneer Netflix suffered a one-day service outage that delayed its DVD shipments. Although probably few customers were even aware of the problem, the company issued all its customers a 5 percent credit on their monthly bill. That kind of proactive service is rare indeed (as is that kind of good PR).

Fab freebies

We continue to tip our hats to software developers that offer fully loaded versions of their programs free for home users, including Avast Antivirus Home Edition, the cross-platform instant messaging program Trillian, and, of course, Google's Google Earth and Picasa. You'd expect an ad-supported company to pack the latter two freebies with, well, ads, but neither program has so much as a banner.

Hot for teachers

Much as we love free stuff, we also love companies that help educate consumers without making a sales pitch every step of the way. A fine example is Samsung's HDTV Guide.

Download and go

Those of us who buy most of our software online appreciate the ability to download programs again, for example, when we migrate to a new PC. Adobe, for instance, lets you access your online purchases simply by logging in to your account. The same goes for games bought on Valve's Steam site: "Your games are associated with your account, not your computer." That's how it should be for all software ordered and delivered online.

NEXT PAGE: What's your most annoying... annoyance?

  1. Software sunset policies
  2. Crapware on new PCs
  3. Exclusive mobile phone deals
  4. More tech policies that annoy us
  5. Software that encourages you to buy or upgrade
  6. Automated email responses
  7. Preferential support for business customers
  8. Four tech policies we love
  9. What's your most annoying... annoyance?

While we love technology, sometimes its purveyors make our blood boil. We're talking about annoying policies and practices, whether a new PC stuffed with junkware or how we have to switch providers just so we can get a better mobile phone.

What's your biggest tech annoyance?

So that's our take on the annoyances of technology companies, but do you agree?

Let us know by voting in our website poll, leaving a comment below or posting in the PC Advisor forum.

  1. Software sunset policies
  2. Crapware on new PCs
  3. Exclusive mobile phone deals
  4. More tech policies that annoy us
  5. Software that encourages you to buy or upgrade
  6. Automated email responses
  7. Preferential support for business customers
  8. Four tech policies we love
  9. What's your most annoying... annoyance?