A charge to set up your new PC? The shop should be paying you

There is little to set up on a PC that it can't do by itself
There is little to set up on a PC that it can't do by itself
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There has been much talk lately of the allegedly unscrupulous practice of adding up to £40 to the price of a new computer or laptop for an optional “setup service”. The consumer group Which? has gone so far as to warn Currys PC World that the charges could contravene the law, and has demanded that customers be reimbursed.

Leaving aside the legalities, you might wonder why a brand new item of consumer electronics should even need servicing, and the answer is that it doesn’t at all.

Currys says that for your £40 it will “set up a Windows account, install essential apps and create recovery media”, all of which the computer will do more or less by itself when you first turn it on, with minimal input from you.

It’s not only a waste of money but a potential security compromise if you’re giving someone in the shop details of a Windows account you would sooner keep to yourself.

Currys isn’t clear on its website about which apps it considers “essential”, but it has long been standard practice in the industry to install programs on new PCs that are nothing more than free trials of unnecessary services which will cost you money in the long term.

According to Which?, the practice is more insidious still, with customers complaining of having been charged for a setup they neither asked for nor wanted, because their local branch claimed to have in stock only machines that had been serviced in advance.

The organisation likened the practice to “bait advertising”, in which a retailer lures customers with the promise of a deal they have no intention of honouring. This is deemed an unfair practice under the consumer trading regulations.

The idea of paying someone to set up a new computer had some validity in the 1990s, when machines were typically supplied with no operating system and a just box of floppy disks. The process of installing Windows was tiresome and unreliable and the computers themselves unfamiliar. But today, all PCs sold by major retailers are ready to work right out of the box, and will prompt you for any details they require. Not even those are necessarily essential.

If someone in the store has opened the box and done that for you, the device has been pretty much rendered shop-soiled and should, if you ask me, be sold at a discount, not a surcharge. Keep that in mind the next time someone tries to sell you an optional extra you didn’t ask for.

This might happen sooner than you think, because Microsoft has announced the impending “retirement” of its 10-year-old Windows 7 operating system. This means it will stop supplying fixes to the numerous security leaks it keeps springing.

Well over a third of PCs still use Windows 7 – only slightly fewer than the number running the current version. This is despite the offer of a free upgrade four years ago.

There is no need to act immediately on the warning notices that will soon start to appear on your Windows 7 screen, and you can safely follow the instructions to turn them off, if you can find them.

But eventually, as developers move to versions that will work only with a current installation, some of the apps on which you rely will begin to disappear. You might begin to notice this in around three years – by which time you may have already upgraded your machine, and been pleasantly surprised at how much cheaper it was than your last one – especially if you only paid for the bits of it you needed.