Best Buy Software Installer: Win, or Fail?

Much of the tech reporting blogs and websites have already started to spread the word about the Best Buy Software Installer (“BBSI”), just days after some websites started making the claim that the Geek Squad Optimization service is a “Big Stupid Waste of Money”. But what some of these pundits may not know is what the BBSI is, or how it is supposed to radically change the way people buy computers today. I’ll try to break it all down.

The basic premise behind BBSI is simple: simplify the task of setting up a new PC for our clients. Yes, the two major consumer operating systems do a fairly good job of the initial first-time setup of a PC (the “Out Of Box Experience”, or OOBE), but once that’s done is where many people start to stumble. In the past, the Geek Squad has performed services such as the Optimization, Restore Disc Creation, not to mention installation and configuration of antimalware software. These services will still exist in the short term, but for those buying a computer with BBSI, the PC should have fewer trials and other bloat accompanying Windows out of the box. Instead, BBSI will be the first thing the end customer sees, allowing them to purchase applications of the types they want to use, rather than what the computer manufacturer is paid to advertise. The purchase information is stored in their bestbuy.com account, so if they ever need to reinstall they simply log back into the application and redownload/reinstall. These ‘cleaner’ PCs with BBSI preinstalled are available from Asus, Acer, Gateway, eMachines, Sony, and Toshiba. For the time being, BBSI is not included with Dell or HP PCs, and most netbooks do not have BBSI available either.

I have worked with many computers that are preloaded with BBSI at the factory as part of my job, and while some of the benefits of the new software exist, it does fall short on a few of them. For example, two Toshiba netbooks were compared – one is a model that is being phased out, the other is a new model. BBSI is present on the newer one, while it is not present on the older one. In our informal testing, the older model took only 3 DVDs to create recovery discs, while the newer took 5. In addition, the newer one actually had more trial software to disable/uninstall, which is one of the things BBSI was supposed to ‘fix’. It is also my opinion that the user interface, or UI, is particularly horrible – obviously it was designed to be ‘easy’ yet still convey the fact that yes, it is a Best Buy program. Unfortunately, that translates to a rather bright shade of blue, with yellow buttons. The UI is unnecessarily resource-intensive as well, since it is all rounded corners and designed to be ‘pretty’. This dedication to the aesthetic makes the application difficult to navigate.

In addition to a bad UI, BBSI suffers from too many of the same problems many of the trials preinstalled on computers today suffer from. BBSI will nag the end customer unless they locate and successfully click the button to only load when requested. There are  only 35 titles currently available for purchase through this application – Microsoft Office and many of the top antivirus vendors are not among those with a presence in this new application, which are the most requested pieces of software with a new PC. Naturally many of the current titles available are from companies that Best Buy has purchased over the years – Napster makes an appearance, as well as the Geek Squad’s 24 Hour Support Tool, which may just be the most useful piece of software included in this package. The list of available programs available is expected to grow over time – this is one reason the application may take a few minutes to load – it has to download the new list of available software every time it is fired up.

Bottom line: This software will change the game – slightly. Best Buy will probably make a few bucks selling software through this new application, though not as much as they might have if they were offering more, and more popular titles via this application. If this software is going to start with the PC every time, it should also be able to download, manage, and update some extremely useful free software such as iTunes/QuickTime, Sun Java, Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and free web browsers from a variety of companies. If this was being offered by any company other than the one we work for, it would be at the very least disabled, and most likely uninstalled from each computer during the optimization.

And bottom line for the optimization: we have found more value in selling it as a way to have all the critical updates done for the machine – not just for Windows, but for any other Microsoft applications installed as well, like the free Office trial. I have a feeling this service will survive, and probably even thrive – even once BBSI is on all our PCs. As long as we as a company remember that Geek Squad service is not for everyone, we’ll all be just fine.

More information is available at: http://www.bestbuy.com/softwareinstaller.

Disclaimer: I am an employee of Best Buy Inc (NYSE: BBY) within the Geek Squad division. All opinions expressed in this article are mine and may not reflect those of my employer. For more information about Best Buy, please go to http://www.bestbuy.com, and for more information about Geek Squad or to receive remote support visit http://www.geeksquad.com.