How do I UNinstall a program that’s not in the add/remove list?

September 9, 2007

How do I remove a program that is not on the Add/Remove programs list? It is on the All Programs list but doesn’t have an uninstall option. I have searched all over but can’t see how.

Unfortunately this can get complicated.

Some programs don’t require an uninstaller, all you need do is delete them (I’ll show you how to do that for most).

Some programs should have an uninstall option, and don’t. That’s where things can get messy.

I want to start out with a big caveat: if a program does not include an uninstall utility we have to start making assumptions. Lots of assumptions. And when we make assumptions, sometimes they’ll be wrong. Most of the time the steps below will work, but sometimes they won’t. Sometimes a program won’t be completely uninstalled, and sometimes something else you didn’t plan on will be affected by the uninstall.

Before you begin any of this, make sure you have a current backup of your entire system. These are computers: something will go wrong.

And yes, with that big a caveat to begin with, you might consider not uninstalling whatever it is you’re considering. If it’s not causing a problem, and it’s not taking excessive disk space, sometimes just leaving it all alone until the next reformat is the safer thing to do.

“… sometimes just leaving it all alone until the next reformat is the safer thing to do.”

Not all programs add themselves to the Add/Remove programs list in Control Panel. Be sure and check on the Start Menu to see if the program you want to install has placed its uninstall option there instead.

I’ll start with the simple case: programs that have no uninstaller because they don’t need one. In theses cases the program can be “uninstalled” simply by locating where the program is installed and deleting it.

Some very simple (in terms of installation) programs just come as a single “.exe” file. All you need to do is locate and delete that file and you’re done. A lot of utilities, like for example Process Explorer, which I refer to a lot, fall into this category.

Most programs, however, install to “C:\Program Files”, and do so by creating a folder therein names either either for the program, or perhaps for the company that made it. For example if you’ve installed some program called “Leo’s Power Widget” and decided you no longer needed it, you might find:

C:\Program Files\Leo’s Power Widget

You can probably just delete that folder and its contents to “uninstall” the program.

One safety note: if you’re not sure, rename that folder, reboot, and use your machine for a while. If no errors pop up because the software or other components couldn’t be found, that’s an additional indicator that deleting might be safe.

“But what about the shortcut that’s left in the start menu?” I hear some of you asking.

If you didn’t put that there manually, then this is a case of a program that should have had an uninstall program, but doesn’t. I can think of several reasons this might be, but none of them are, in my opinion, acceptable.

When a program starts making changes elsewhere in your system – to places other than where it installed – then in my opinion it requires an uninstall program to clean those changes up. Changes include menu items, folders and data files elsewhere on your hard drive (such as “Documents and Settings”), and of course the ever popular registry.

If you want to force an uninstall of a program that does any of these things, this is the approach I would take:

  • Backup your machine. Make sure that if the worst happens, you can restore to a known state. And yes, when playing with some of these uninstall options “the worst” means rendering your machine unbootable from the hard drive. Unlikely, but possible.
  • Locate and Rename the folder containing the program you want to uninstall, reboot, and run your machine for a while. If you get errors because of the rename, then something is still depending on that software being installed. It could be a start-up entry, which we can delete later, or it could be something more critical which you may not want to play with. You’ll need to decide based on the error.
  • Fix any auto-start problems that result by deleting auto-start entries from your start menu and registry as needed.
  • Delete the renamed folder. Once again reboot and run your machine for a while.
  • Scan for shortcuts to the program you just deleted, removing them from your Start Menu, desktop, quick launch bar – wherever they may have been installed.
  • Ignore the registry. I know many will disagree with me, and will advocate instead searching the registry for settings that are related to the program and removing them. In my opinion it’s too easy to mess up something important, and aside from start-up entries we dealt with already, there’s little benefit to actually cleaning this up anyway. If you must, you’re probably safer running a registry cleaning utility at this point, but I’m not a big fan of those either.
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