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How to uninstall stubborn programs

Updated on July 2, 2012
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Introduction to installing and uninstalling

Almost any PC user installs different applications and utilities on his or her computers and removes them when they aren't needed anymore or replaced with more advanced software. Usually, it is not a difficult task since most of programs have their uninstall tools and uninstall process might be easily handled with the Windows Control Panel option Add or Remove Programs. This operating system utility also handles installation of the programs that don't have uninstall utilities and creates system files with the information needed for these programs uninstall.

Though, there are times when PC users have issues while trying to uninstall programs that are just too stubborn to be removed in the common way. There are many different reasons for which some program might be difficult to uninstall. Sometimes the uninstall utility for the program isn't designed well to properly handle complete uninstall process, or this utility is corrupted and the system’s Add/Remove utility still expect to use such a program for uninstall instead of making its own during installation. Even if this utility makes its own uninstall file for programs that don't have it, the process created by the operating system not always can handle all the intricate issues of the installed program and can't properly remove a program with bad or corrupted uninstall from PC.

Special uninstall tools - Uninstallers

Some applications are just a part of the product chain and expected to work in a bundle with other company products designed and delivered later. So, removing or updating these programs might present issues that their original uninstall programs cannot handle correctly, and a new special program is needed to remove such a product from the whole chain or to clean everything if all the products are removed. At this end, we have Adobe, McAfee, and Symantec popular products that are completely removed only with special uninstall tools. The same issue might arise with any complicated application especially those manufactured by the group of different software companies. Finally, there are Trojans and spyware programs that cannot be easily removed by the nature of this malware, and often they would install themselves back even after being removed. These programs are usually removed with special removal tools and antivirus programs.

One of the best uninstallers - Revo Uninstaller

To remove malware or other hard to remove program, it is very important to make sure that all the registry keys related to this program are also removed. Malicious programs might place hidden and embedded entries in the system registry, are hard to find and remove. They are used for reinstall in cases when some Trojan or spyware files are removed. The security scan of the system registry with an antivirus program might help to get rid of these entries and programs.

How to remove programs properly

Attempt to uninstall program by deleting its folder might be a reason for this program being stubborn. Some people are trying to delete folders with program files, but there are only a slim chance to succeed with such a removal today since modern programs might have install different folders and directories for configuration files and utilities as well as for application files, libraries and embedded programs from other manufacturers that combine the whole software product. Some of these folders are hidden and they are difficult to identify since they might be located in different places. Attempt to uninstall program by deleting its folder might be a reason for this program being stubborn.

If you want to uninstall program from your Windows OS properly, then it is better to properly install them. Microsoft advises to use its Add / Remove Programs utility for the installation of any program. Then the information needed for uninstall is gathered and saved by the system. Always follow this advice while installing programs without own uninstall utility and when installing programs from unknown manufacturers. This will make uninstall process more reliable.

Before you can to uninstall program, you need to close all the program windows and stop all running processes because Windows cannot delete programs that are running. Some utility and application programs might have services running even when the program window is closed. It is the case with antivirus program, system services and some desktop gadgets. They are running silently in the background, and sometimes are shared with other running applications. To remove these programs you need to close all program and folder windows opened on your desktop. Then you need to stop all the related processes that might be still running in the background.

Example of problem software uninstall

The instructions for the proper and complete uninstall

1. First you need to stop the processes associated with the program that you want to remove if this processes are still running.

  • Hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete to bring up Task Manager window.
  • Click on Applications tab, and make sure that no running programs are shown. Close all of these programs and folders.
  • Note: If you share your computer with somebody else, then you need to check if the EXE file with the program is still running for another user.

    For that click on Processes tab, and click button “Show processes from all users” (on Windows XP put check mark into option box).
  • Click header of the table username to sort all the running processes and check if this process is running under the other person name. If it is running, you might stop or maybe wait for this person to stop the program and safe files that might be important.
  • Open Processes tab.
  • Look for exe files related to the program that you want to uninstall and stop them.

2. If the program you want uninstall is a service, then you need to stop it and remove it from the list of services before you can safely uninstall it from your PC.

  • Click on Start, and in the menu click Run (for Windows XP only)
  • Type msconfig.exe in the command prompt box or the Search box on Windows 7.
  • Click Service tab in the opened configuration utility.
  • Find and uncheck all EXE files related to the program you want to remove.
  • Click "OK"

Now, you are ready to remove program from your computer.

3. Uninstall program from your PC with Add/Remove:

  • Click on Start and open Control Panel.
  • Click “Add or Remove Programs”.
  • Note: To start this utility in Windows 7 and Vista first click Programs and Features
  • Find and highlight the program you want to remove.
  • Right click it and select Remove
  • Follow instructions from the uninstall wizard.

4. Remove all the entries left by the uninstalled application from your System Registry.

Even right uninstall process not always might be perfect, and the system registry might be left with some keys that weren't properly removed by the uninstall utility. These entries might cause problems, and one of the most common and noticeable of them is the presence of removed program in the list of installed programs in the Add/Remove Programs utility window. It doesn't mean that the program wasn’t removed, but it is misleading, annoying, and might point to more serious problems along with this one.

Warning: Before you proceed with the removal of the uninstalled program leftover from your system registry, keep in your mind that incorrect actions and errors might be dangerous for your system and make it inoperable. If you are not sure about the level of skills and needed knowledge, then you better use some registry cleaner with heuristic registry cleaner such as Revo Uninstaller that will find and remove stray entries from your system. If you are confident in your skills and have a complicated products and configurations on your system that the uninstaller might not handle correctly, then you can perform these steps:

  • Click on Start
  • Click Run on Windows XP.
  • Type “regedit” into the command prompt, or the search box on Windows 7/ Vista, and press Enter.
  • In Registry window expand these keys and remove folders related to the removed program.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CURRENTCONTROLSET\SERVICES

5.Remove all the files related to program (optional)

The uninstall process should remove files and folders associated with the program; however, some user folders with configuration files, user settings, templates and small utilities might be left in user or program folder. If you don't need them, then you can check on these folders and remove them from your computer. There also might be some files left I hidden folders with application data. To remove them you will need to make all the hidden files visible and look for the uninstalled application folder in Documents and Settings directory.

In the afterword, I would say that not all of the instructions for the compete removal, mentioned above, are always necessary. Many programs might be removed with Add/Remove utility or their own uninstallers. However, you will need to follow these instructions with almost any service and any program that is to stubborn to be removed easily.

Sometimes, a program cannot be properly uninstalled because of missed or corrupted files, and you might get error messages during uninstalling these programs. Before you got in trouble messing with your registry, try to repair or reinstall the program with its installation CD or other source. Then it might be easily removed.

Some programs might require installation in particular folders and wouldn't properly uninstalled if are installed or moved to different folder. That is why it is better to use default settings in installation wizard than have a stubborn program that cannot be uninstalled without trouble.

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