What Is Shovelware?

Most shovelware is unwanted, bundled bloatware that you can safely remove

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Shovelware is a contraction for “shovel” and “software.” It’s used to describe unwanted software that’s bundled with purposeful software.

The term originates from a time when software and video game developers would try to fill an entire disc by plugging in additional programs or games that the user didn’t ask for. The developers were said to care so little about real quality that it appeared as if they simply shovelled lots of programs into one big bundle just to take up space.

Shovelware programs might be demos, ad-filled programs, or actual usable software, but in general they're assumed to be of little real worth. No matter what kind they are, the point is that they were not installed on purpose or are of such low grade that they’re not even useful.

Shovelware is also often referred to as bloatware since the additional programs, if left unused, only serve to suck away at otherwise-available memory and hard drive resources. 

How Shovelware Works

Shovelware doesn’t just exist with CDs; it's also seen on phones, tablets, and computers, even ones that were recently purchased. Instead of there just being the default applications that are necessary for the operating system to function, the device might also include totally unrelated software programs or games.

You might also see shovelware in the form of downloadable software bundles. Normally, when you download a program or purchase a disc with a program or video game on it, that’s all you get.

You have access to whatever it is that you purchased or requested for download. This is how normal software distributions work.

However, after installing some software programs or video games, you may notice odd shortcuts, toolbars, add-ons, or weird programs that you didn’t know you installed. This is how shovelware works - programs you don’t want (and often don’t even need) are added to your device without your permission.

When clicking through some program installers, you might notice that there are additional checkboxes or options that let you easily install unrelated (or sometimes related) programs that don’t necessarily add or subtract from the functions of the primary download. This might be considered shovelware but isn’t exactly the same since you do have the option to not install the additional software.

How to Avoid Shovelware

Program installers, operating systems, phones, tablets, etc., do not advertise that you’re getting duped into downloading bundled programs that you don’t want. So, you’re not really warned about shovelware before you download or purchase these things.

However, the easiest way to avoid getting shovelware is to buy and download only from reputable sources. If you’re getting your applications through obscure websites you’ve never heard of, or the software appears way too good to be true (this is especially seen when torrenting or using keygen software), then the chances are much higher that you’ll find bundles of unnecessary or even malicious programs.

On the other hand, it’s unlikely that you’ll get unwanted software bundles from large companies like Google, Apple, or Microsoft.

However, even those companies install default apps for you that you didn’t really ask for, but it’s often overlooked because they’re well-known and their software is so widespread and frequently used.

Tip: Read tips on avoiding malicious software downloads in our How to Safely Download & Install Software guide.

Another method for stopping downloaded shovelware programs from installing, is to scan your computer for malware and to use an antivirus program to protect your files. If a piece of software does include a virus or collection of bundled programs like toolbars and add-ons, most AV programs recognize them as malicious or potentially unwanted programs, and will block them from installing or ask you for permission.

Should You Remove Shovelware?

Whether you should keep or remove shovelware is really up to you. Shovelware isn't synonymous with malware, so the bundled software isn’t necessarily an immediately a threat to your files. 

That said, most people end up removing the programs they don’t want. That is unless they can't - there might be times when you actually can’t remove the shovelware apps or you find that you’re okay having them.

Default apps that you can’t remove are often called stock apps, and are programs that the operating system simply doesn’t allow you to remove. What normally happens in these cases is that you can put them in folders away from view, or use a third-party tool to force-remove the installation files.

Usually, though, and especially more recently, shovelware is installed by accident through installer files that bundle lots of tools together into one big pile that you then have to sift through after the installation to find what needs removed.

You can delete shovelware programs with a free uninstaller tool like the popular IObit Uninstaller. Some of the programs in that list can help remove programs that were installed in a bundle even if they’re totally unrelated, but as long as they were installed together with the same installer.