Uninstalling Software

by Walt Stoneburner
"I just want it off my machine! Is that so hard?"

Why is uninstalling so hard?

Back in the good old days, before there was a Microsoft Registry, a software package pretty much sat in its own subdirectory. Delete the directory, it's uninstalled. Plain and simple.

The recommended way on a Microsoft system is to use the Add/Remove Programs feature to Uninstall a package. If you're here, there's a good chance that didn't work for you and you're looking for a do-it-yourself solution.

Be forewarned, when you play in the registry, you're taking your system's life into your own hands. We assume no responsibilty for what happens next.

Why is this program starting?

Now days, programs on Microsoft platforms can be invoked at startup from a number of different places. So if you've got a rogue program that won't go away, you need to check several places.


Just like the DOS days, the file AUTOEXEC.BAT can hold programs to start at boot time. Admittedly, this method is used less and less with Windows NT, 2000, and XP.

The StartUp Group

Each user has a group that contains a directory of programs (or shortcuts) that get fired up. This also resides on your filesystem. Go check out what's in:
C:\WINNT\Profiles\username\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

The Registry

Be aware that the Microsoft Registry can also contain a list of programs to run. You'll need to invoke REGEDIT, REGEDT32, or an alternate registry editor to make these changes. Check out the location:
My Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

The Entry Still Appears in the Install/Uninstall List

If a software package is removed manually, or if something goes seriously wrong, or if the uninstall process is immature, then you could be left with orphaned entries in your Install/Uninstall list.

To make them go away, you can delete registry entries under:
My Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall

Note that the UninstallString tells what program the system thinks should be run to clean up after the appliation. If you've deleted it already, you may have orphaned some things you shouldn't. You might need to download a registry cleaner/scrubber to fix this; it will scan the registry looking for things that don't belong there and remove them.

It won't let me edit the Windows Registry...

Sometimes a machine is locked down fairly hard, and you can't make the registry changes you need. Usually what you can do is find the file on the system that's getting invoked or loaded and rename it, and if that fails, usually changing the directory name works well too.

SlingCode Search Results About     Articles     Links     Search Tips