Time for my most common, yet most annoying answer:
I’ll describe what the Visual C++ redistributables are all about, and why the safest thing to do is probably to leave them alone.
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Visual C++ Redistributables
C++ is a programming language — one of several languages authors use to create software.
Visual C++ is Microsoft’s implementation of the tools those authors use.
When authors write software using Microsoft Visual C++, they make use of what are called “standard libraries”. These are collections of pre-written software that allow programmers to avoid writing common sequences of code. Instead, they use this collection of pre-written and very thoroughly-tested software.
They’re termed “redistributable” because they are Microsoft software that can be distributed by third-party programs. When you install a program, the setup program has the option of installing the Visual C++ Redistributable if it’s not present. On the other hand, if you have five programs using the Visual C++ Redistributable, there only needs to be one copy of it on your computer, installed by the first of the five to have been installed.
There are, of course, multiple different versions of the Visual C++ Redistributable, and apparently newer ones do not necessarily supersede the older ones. For example, the Visual C++ 2008 Redistributable doesn’t automatically replace the Visual C++ 2005 Redistributable — both may be needed. Much like the .NET Framework, you can end up with more than one version on your machine.
Do you need them?
I have no idea if you need them. I have no idea if you need just one or two or all of the several versions that may be installed on your machine.
It depends on the software on your machine.
If the software installed on your machine needs them, you need them. If it doesn’t, you might not. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way for you to tell which programs on your machine require which versions of the redistributables.
But given that they only appear on your machine if software that uses them is present1, I expect you probably do need them. Both.
Leaving them all in place is by far the safest thing to do.
Is it worth it?
My question to you is this: is it worth the time and risk to consider removing them?
In my experience, they won’t give you back nearly as much disk space as you expect. And they’re certainly not impacting system performance if they’re not being used.
If you’re in a true disk space crunch, I’d approach the problem by seeing what’s using the most space and attacking it from that angle. You’ll get more space more quickly if you approach it by looking for the space hogs first.
If you’re not running low on disk space, I wouldn’t spend any more time on it.
There’s always a risk of breaking something when removing components that are designed to be shared. There’s no simple way to ensure that there are no programs on your machine that need them.
The only way I know of to remove them with complete safety is to reformat and reinstall Windows and all applications from scratch. That way, only the redistributables you need will be installed.
And after all that, you may find you’re right back where you started. In my opinion, it’s just not worth it.