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Can I delete old versions of software?


I wondered why space on my hard disk seemed to be disappearing so quickly
and then discovered that programs such as Java and Adobe leave older/parallel
versions of themselves behind when they update. I must have at least 500MB of
Java versions at the time of writing. My question is can I delete these older
versions and why doesn’t Java do that automatically when it updates?

The second part is easy: why? Who knows? There are so many possibilities,
and in general it’ll vary from vendor to vendor. And of course knowing why
probably won’t help us answer the first part of the question.

But I do have a suggested approach to cleaning up…

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The general answer is yes, you can delete old versions that you know have
been superseded by newly installed upgrades and newer versions.

But, wait.

Before you run off and start deleting folders and files and what not, we
need to take care. The answer isn’t always yes. Sometimes, for various reasons,
it’s no.

So we need to be careful about what we do.

“The general answer is yes, you can delete old versions
that you know have been superseded by newly installed upgrades and newer
versions. But, wait.”

Here’s the approach that I would take:

  • Perform a full backup of your machine. And I do mean full.
    Make sure you’re using a backup program or strategy that includes all files,
    registry settings and whatever else is on your machine. It’s something you
    should have as a regular backup strategy anyway, but this is a case where we’d
    proactively take a snapshot before making major changes.

  • Try Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel first. (that’s
    Programs and Features in Windows Vista’s control panel). Look
    specifically for the old versions of what you’re attempting to clean up. Quite
    often if the old version has been left on disk, then it may well not have been
    uninstalled at all, and may still appear here. If that’s the case, this is by
    far the safest way to remove it.

  • Look for a program-specific menu item in your system’s
    Start Menu. Specifically, look in the “All programs” menu, and
    perhaps even some of the submenus like “Accessories” or others. What we’re
    looking for is once again an uninstall program that is specific to the version
    you’re attempting to clean up. Much like Add/Remove programs, the old version
    may not have been uninstalled, and this, too, would be a safe way to remove

Now if neither of those options are available, things get a little

  • Locate the folder containing the old version. It sounds
    like you’ve already done this since you’ve identified that they’re taking up

  • Rename the folder. Perhaps rename “application” to
    “application-readytodelete” so you can tell later why you renamed it. This
    effectively removes it from system knowledge without actually deleting the

  • Reboot. This is important because renaming the container of
    a file that’s in use will often work without error – the file will still be in
    use. Sometimes the same is even true for renaming the file itself. It’s not
    until you reboot and Windows attempts to locate the file again that an error
    might tell you it was in use originally.

  • Run a test period for “a while”. Depending on how you use
    your machine, and how pressing the need to clean up, this could be hours or
    days. When in doubt, I’d just let things sit as they are for a few days and see
    how it goes.

  • Rename it back and reboot if renaming it in the first place
    caused errors, or any errors occurred during your test period. Based on those
    errors you can decide on how to proceed, but the obvious answer might be to
    leave it alone.

  • Delete the renamed folder if no errors result during the
    test period. Chances are that the old version is no longer in use, and hence
    can be safely deleted.

Note that I said “chances are” in that last item. There’s still certainly a
possibility that something you hadn’t tried during your test phase actually did
still require what you had deleted.

That’s why we started with a backup. If any step along this path fails, you
can always revert to, or restore portions from, that backup of your system that
you started with.

Do this

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4 comments on “Can I delete old versions of software?”

  1. Far better method of install would be to uninstall all copies including registry referances,delete referanced files,reboot. Then install latest version itself; This is not unlike a clean install and will have the best results with no problems…

  2. Best thing to do is a total reformat every 6 months – cleans all the junk out. Just make sure you download all the newer versions of everything first, and then install those.

  3. I would add one step in the process. After renaming, I would zip the folder and delete the unzipped source folder. System is sometimes smart enough to locate files within a renamed folder. It doesn’t always fail. Zipping will keep the files and folders out of systems reach, yet full recovery is possible if needed.



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