Uninstalling Software

Uninstalling software correctly is critical to maintaining the health of your PC. If you do a bad job of uninstalling a program, you can leave behind harmful remnants that will cause errors down the road. The lesson is simple: Clean up your mess! Here's a guide to how to keep your computer tidy by uninstalling software cleanly.

As a computer user, you might be inclined to try any of the following to remove a program from your PC:

While each of these steps has its place, when do you do each? What exactly is going on under the hood? Let's take a look.

What does deleting a shortcut do?

A shortcut is just a quick and easy way for your PC to point to a file, a program, a network location, or pretty much anything. Think of the difference between your childhood elementary school and the path you took to get there. Both existed, both were considered 'school' in your mind, but if you removed the path the school still existed - and you would probably still be able to get there eventually!

Removing a shortcut usually does not do what you expect it to - it will not uninstall the program you are trying to get rid of. Instead, it will simply remove a simple way to access the program, while the program remains. Sometimes shortcuts are cluttering your desktop, in which case you can just remove them without worrying about uninstalling your favorite programs. However, keep in mind at all times that it is just a quick aesthetic change, and does not really do anything to the program. Try to only remove shortcuts that are left behind after a program has been fully uninstalled. A missing shortcut can make it hard to find a program, and deleting the only shortcut to a program that is installed will help you lose track of it, and lower productivity.

How about running the program's uninstall utility?

The majority of programs that install onto your computer come with an uninstall program as well. This program usually resides in the same folder as the application. It also usually has a shortcut to it in your Start Menu - All Programs area. If you are 100% certain you would like to remove a program completely and permanently, run this utility and it will be done. There is NO going back, NO recycle bin, but if you're sure this is the best way to go.

Unfortunately, it's not always as simple as that. You can easily end up with an application where there is no uninstall utility, or the uninstall utility is broken. In this case you want to look at using the Add or Remove Programs wizard, and if that does not work, you should probably contact the vendor of your software package.

Can't I just delete the program's folder?

NO! Deleting a program's folder is a pretty bad idea because you do not know what else the installation of the program has done. Often you will end up with orphaned information in your computer's registry. You might also run into problems with shortcuts as discussed above, the program might have multiple installation paths, application information might be in the Application Data hidden folder, and a myriad of other concerns. The long and the short of it is, do not simply delete a program's folder on your hard disk unless you really know what you are doing!

Alright, I guess I should use the Add or Remove Programs tool - but how?

Simple! Hit Start => Control Panel => Add or Remove Programs. Now find the software you want to remove, click on it, and click Remove. How simple was that! Just follow the on screen instructions, and the software will be gone in moments.

Or will it?

There can in fact be a number of problems with the Add or Remove Programs wizard. If your software vendor has not been careful creating the software and installation routines, you might end up with a stubborn package in the list that has been uninstalled, but remains in the wizard. In order to remove such programs from the the Add or Remove Programs wizard, follow the instructions in this excellent Microsoft Knowledge Base article.

It gets worse.

It is entirely possible that despite all these steps, the software still has some remnants left on your computer causing slowdowns, corruption, and errors. The only way to get rid of these types of errors is to completely reformat your computer (an expensive operation in time and money, no matter what your skill level is) or find a good PC cleanup utility.

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