TUCOWS ARTICLE

How to Remove Unwanted Software

The average computer that you purchase from a store or from one of the big computer manufacturers comes with lots of software. The majority have over 500 megabytes of software installed when you receive it. In some cases you'll find programs that you want to use. In other cases you may want to remove software, and this is how you can do it.
Published: Aug 8, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan

This question was asked by Michael Shepherd, Dominic Tringali, Pauline Cassano and numerous others.

I had planned to discuss further organizing your programs today, but I received so many e-mails about this topic that I felt I had to respond to it. I'll get back to program organization next week.

The average computer that you purchase from a store or from one of the big computer manufacturers comes with lots of software. I do mean alot. The majority have over 500 megabytes of software installed when you receive it. In some cases you'll find programs that you want to use, programs that you may use and then later upgrade. At the same time, however, you'll also find programs that you won't use at all. One question that has been raised is, "how do I safely uninstall unwanted programs?" At the same time, another question that's frequently asked is, "how do I know what things I can safely remove from my computer?" Those are both good questions so lets look at both of them.

When you get a new, or used, computer it has the operating system installed on it. For most people, that operating system is going to be Windows. One thing you do not want to remove are parts of the operating system. The majority of the operating system will be found in a directory (folder) called "Windows" or "WinNT." Just leave those folders alone! Experienced users like myself may tinker in those directories but I do not recommend that average users try it. Delete the wrong file and you can totally disable your computer.

So what can you remove? For all intents and purposes you can remove any program that's been installed on the computer. To do this click:

Start -- Settings -- Control Panel -- Add/Remove Programs

It's fairly safe to say that you can remove any program that you find in the "Add/Remove Programs" section of Windows. These are programs that have been installed after the operating system. And, the parts of the operating system are not shown in this area. So, you're safe to remove programs from this area. Note that some programs will totally remove all trace of themselves while others will leave files and folders in place. If you know where the program is installed you can go in and delete any program folders that were not uninstalled during the uninstall process.

Some people will open a file manager like Windows Explorer and just start deleting folders. This is a rather haphazard approach and one I don't recommend if you don't know what you're doing. Besides the fact that you may delete something you don't want to delete, this method leaves a lot of useless data in the Windows Registry. Windows is fairly smart and it won't let you delete files that are in use. Unless you're sure you know what you're doing, however, you should stick to the "Add/Remove Software" section to remove programs.

Now I'll give you a rule that I've given to both of my daughters and to numerous other people. It's really very simple.

Doc's Rule: When in doubt, DON'T!

This rule applies to computers just as it applies to many other things in life. Not sure if it's safe to merge into traffic? Then don't. Not sure if that liquid you want to drink is poison? Then don't. Not sure if you should eat that mushroom you found in the woods? Then don't! Not sure if you should pass that car? Then don't. When in doubt it's most often the wisest choice to not do something. We could argue the philosophy forever, but for our purposes here, if you aren't sure, then don't remove something. Either leave it or wait until you talk with someone who does know.

One other thing I want to clear up is a common misconception among newer computer users. Deleting or otherwise removing an icon does not remove the program. So, you can go through the Programs folder and delete anything you like, but the programs are still on your hard disk. An icon simply represents a file, folder, printer or drive on your computer. You can safely remove programs from the Add/Remove Programs section of the Windows Control Panel. Until you feel really confident, you shouldn't go beyond that.

I'd like to thank Michael Shepherd, Dominic Tringali, Pauline Cassano and numerous others for asking this question. Names are used with permission.


About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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