Answer Line: Clean Up What a Messy Uninstall Leaves Behind

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I recently installed a program, decided I didn't want it, and uninstalled it. But there are still bits and pieces of it all over my computer. How do I truly get rid of this program?

Alexander Sitt, Gillette, New Jersey

Uninstall routines seem to be written by people who can't imagine that anyone would ever want to remove their beloved program. Too many uninstall routines leave too much behind, including alterations that mess up Windows.

Here are tricks for cleaning up after an uninstall. But don't expect miracles. I've tried to err on the side of caution; 'tis better you see an occasional obsolete menu option than render Windows unusable.

If you uninstalled the program only a few days after installing it and you didn't install anything else in between, simply restore the Windows Registry from a backup made before the installation.

If a Registry restoration isn't possible, open Windows Explorer and navigate to the C:\Program Files folder (you may get a warning that you shouldn't go there; just click the link that takes you there anyway). If the folder for the offending app is still listed within Program Files, keep the window open and handy for a bit. Eventually you'll delete the folder, but for now you just want easy access to its name.

Next, make sure that the program isn't still loading every time your system boots. Select Start, Run, type msconfig, and press Enter. Click the Startup tab and look for anything that appears to be related to the outgoing program. (Windows 2000 lacks the System Configuration utility, so download and install Mike Lin's free substitute, Startup Control Panel, if you use that OS.)

Now verify that no file types are associated with the unwanted program. In Windows Explorer, select Tools, Folder Options (View, Folder Options in Windows 98). Click the File Types tab and check the list of file types for any mention of the unwanted program (see FIGURE 1

Figure 1: You may have to reassociate some file types after uninstalling a program.

If you find one, consider whether that file type should be associated with some other program (this is primarily an issue with such common file types as .jpg and .mp3). To reassign a file type, click the Change button and follow the instructions. Otherwise, just delete it by clicking the Delete button and confirming your decision. Don't worry, this doesn't delete any actual files, just the associations. The next time you attempt to open a file of that type, Windows will prompt you to choose a program to open it with.

To do a thorough job of uninstalling, you need to clean the Registry. This is a slow and potentially dangerous chore. Before undertaking it, make sure that you have backed up the Registry.

Once you've backed up your Registry, select Start, Run, type regedit, and press Enter. Navigate the left pane of the Registry Editor as if it were Windows Explorer until you get to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Applications. Click the plus sign next to this key (Registry-speak for a folder), and look for a subkey that matches your program's file name (you may have to guess at this a bit). If you find one, right-click it and select Delete, Yes.

Now navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software, click the plus sign, and look for a subkey named for the vendor of the program. If you find it, click the plus sign there, too. Delete the subkey for the program you've uninstalled (if it's there). Otherwise, delete the vendor key entirely. Do the same in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE key.

Press Home to return to the top of the Registry Editor's left pane. Press Ctrl-F to open the Find dialog box. Enter the program name in the 'Find what' field, make sure that all of the options under 'Look at' are checked, and click Next or Find Next, depending on your version of Windows. If a match turns up, delete the entry and then press F3 to search again.

When there are no matches left, run the same search using the file name, vendor name, and path--if you have this information. When you're done, close the Registry Editor and reboot your PC.

Lastly, check to see whether the folder for the program still exists inside the C:\Program Files folder. If it does, now is the time to go back and delete that folder.

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