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bloatware also fatware

noun [uncountable]

software that uses an excessive amount of computing power and therefore wastes memory or disk space that could be used for other purposes

'Maybe you're upset about Samsung taking up a lot of your new Galaxy S4's storage space with all of its bloatware or perhaps you want to use multi window with all of your apps, not just the ones Samsung has chosen for you.'

LAPTOP Magazine 28th May 2013

If you're a serious smartphone user, the sort of person who regularly upgrades their handset to the latest model, then in recent years you may have come across, or moreover been frustrated by, the concept of bloatware. For the uninitiated, bloatware refers to pre-installed software on your phone that provides more bells and whistles than you'd ever need in your wildest dreams, but irritatingly occupies so much space that there's no room for the things that you actually want to use!

bloatware is often associated with a concept known as feature creep, which describes the tendency for developers to add more and more features to a software product in an attempt to keep up with competitors

Though the term bloatware, sometimes also described as fatware, is usually used in the context of mobile phones, it can in fact be used in relation to any hand-held device or computer. Both terms are a pejorative way of describing software that 'wastes' memory or disk space. This wastefulness can occur in various ways. It might simply be software that has little purpose or functionality and so occupies space without being beneficial to the user. Over-sophisticated graphics or user interfaces are classic examples of this, things that look pretty but don't actually do a lot. Other times it may be connected with how much memory or processor power a piece of software takes up – programs that hog too much RAM can have a negative impact on the device overall, causing it to slow down, or even crash.

The term bloatware hit the international headlines in Spring 2013, when the Samsung Galaxy S4, one of the fastest selling smartphones of recent times and a rival to Apple's iPhone, was widely publicized as having a problem with pre-installed software which occupied as much as half of the device's on-board memory. In response to consumer dissatisfaction the company subsequently released an update allowing users to move this 'bloatware' to an SD card, thereby releasing memory for storing their own data.

Background – bloatware

The term bloatware was coined by analogy with software, hardware etc and figurative use of the verb bloat which literally means 'to cause to swell with liquid or gas'. Bloat more commonly appears as participle adjective bloated, and in figurative use has negative connotations, indicating the idea of excessive and unnecessary augmentation.

In technical contexts bloatware is often associated with a concept known as feature creep, which describes the tendency for developers to add more and more features to a software product in an attempt to keep up with competitors, but in doing so actually producing something slower and less efficient.

Bloatware is another example of productive use of suffix -ware (indicating a product with a particular feature or purpose) in a computational context. What started out with hardware (1947) and later software (1960) has developed into a substantial and ever-expanding taxonomy, which includes firmware, (software closely tied to the device it runs on and integral to its functionality), freeware (software available to download and use without paying), shareware (software like freeware but with some restrictions on functionality or availability), adware (software actively displaying advertisements), the rather sinister spyware (software that surreptitiously monitors what a user does) and malware (software designed for malicious purposes). The informal terms crapware and crudware are now also sometimes used to describe software which is useless or of very poor quality.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 10th September 2013.

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