How Do You Definitively Uninstall Windows Software?

By Deane Barker on February 5, 2005

How do you completely remove an application from a Windows machine? (Warning: this post will give Mac users a gratuitous chance to gloat.)

Windows has a tendency to scatter apps to the four corners of your hard drive when you install (see this). Installing some apps is roughly akin to firing a shotgun through a bag of granulated sugar onto deep pile carpeting. The question then becomes, how do you impersonate a vacuum cleaner?

When I want to make sure I’ve really gotten rid of a Windows app, here’s what I do:

  1. Uninstall from Add/Remove Programs
  2. Run “msconfig” and look for anything that might be related to the program that auto-starts, including Windows Services
  3. Reboot
  4. Search for and delete the Program Files folder
  5. Search for and delete any related folders in the “Local Settings” and “Application Data” folders in my profile
  6. Search for and delete any related registry keys
  7. Search for and delete any related environment variables
  8. Search for and delete any related Start Menu items

Anyone else want to offer suggestions?



  1. You use a tool like InCtrl5 or InstallWatch Pro, which monitors the install, giving you a complete report of everything that got changed on your computer by the installer. There are tools, which i unfortunently don’t remember the name of, that can take the report than InCtrl5 made and uninstall the software using that report. Thereby removing everything the installer installed and changed.

  2. Unfortunately, with OS X, getting rid of an app and its associated files has become a lot more like doing the same in Windows. The associated files are usually in pretty standard locations, but not terribly intuitive for the novice.

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