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Does an unstable system imply a hardware problem?

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I have a PC that does… well, weird things. My Adobe Flash suddenly doesn’t work on some major sites, yet it’s OK on others like YouTube. Adobe Flash is suddenly not displayed on Add/Remove listings. I also lose parts of some other PC components so that their features don’t work properly. Now, this usually starts after I carefully uninstall some “accidentally” downloaded toolbar or some other program I have “added/removed” in my Windows. Now, technicians say there is no problem with the computer. Can there be a flaw in the motherboard or something making this happen? It’s like the uninstall that I do appears to gut some of my other programs, especially Adobe Flash.

Motherboard and other hardware issues are typically more consistent. You would see the same issue over and over again. Or the issue would be more severe, like your computer would just stop working or crash completely on a regular basis.

While it’s still possible, I don’t believe there’s a problem with your motherboard. What you’re describing sounds more like software rot.

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What is software rot?

Software rot is an interesting concept. In theory, once you install software on your machine, you should be able to open it and use it. When the time comes to uninstall it, you should be able to use Add/Remove to uninstall it. Uninstalling should “undo” the install, and leave you with a clean result.

But let’s say you get questionable software on your machine – something that maybe you didn’t ask for or didn’t realize was potentially malicious. That can leave behind traces. It’s shouldn’t do that, but it does. Think of it like goo.

It also doesn’t have to be malicious software. There are various things that can accumulate over time even as the result  installing and uninstalling legitimate software, or in some rare cases even just using certain software over time.

Software rot isn’t really Windows’ fault, though some will blame its design. It’s not necessarily the application’s fault, though often applications will be less than complete about cleaning up after themselves.

Rotten OrangeThe bottom line is simple that software rot just is.

Over time, this goo accumulates. Files are leftover. Settings are left set. Random minor issues accumulate and the system becomes unstable. That’s why we refer to it as software rot.

The real solution is to avoid installing and uninstalling stuff unless you’re absolutely certain that you actually want to use and keep it.

People like me, who do this for a living and install and uninstall software periodically to test it, know that software rot is inevitable. And on a periodic basis, we fix it.

How do you fix software rot?

The only real solution is to completely reinstall Windows. By that, I mean:

  • Back up everything on your machine with a complete image backup.
  • Reinstall Windows.
  • Reinstall all of your applications.
  • Copy back your data either from your backup or wherever else you may have had a copy.

That’s what it takes to clean out software rot. There’s no cleaning program that I can recommend; it’s just too invasive and too random. Besides, the cleaning programs themselves often cause more problems than they solve.

Avoiding software rot

You can minimize software rot by avoiding all of this installing and uninstalling.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If there’s something you need to install or uninstall, do it. Use your computer. That’s why you have it.

Instead, I’m telling you to be careful about what you install. In fact, be a little bit picky about what gets installed, especially if it’s something that you think you’re going to uninstall after evaluating it.

There are ways to do that safely – things like sacrificial machines or virtual machines – but just installing and uninstalling “stuff” on your regular machine is going to eventually lead to software rot.

The good news is that things are improving. Systems don’t seem to be nearly as susceptible to software rot as they once were, but it’s not gone away completely by any means. It still pays to be aware and careful.

And of course I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t also recommend that you take periodic backup images of Windows and all your applications and data. That’s a great place to be able to restore back to to if you ever get yourself into this situation again.

2 comments on “Does an unstable system imply a hardware problem?”

  1. Uninstall adobe flash and download latest addition.
    Read some of the articles on speeding up a slow computer.

    CCleaner{free} is excellent for cleaning out built up unwanted files. It now comes with excellent tools to disable most start up items whilst you trouble shoot.

    Excessive start up items cause heaps of problems. Almost all can be disabled during trouble shooting then if required, start up one at a time, but only if required. Disable under ccleaner “tools” button.

    Also disable scheduled tasks under the “Tools” button during trouble shooting. Sometimes bad guys hide out in the task scheduling section.

    Disable unknown browser addons and extensions.

    Use only Google for default search.My experience is that other search providers like “My web search” and “Ask” slow things down and can cause other performance issues.
    Do not do on line scans and on line cleanups ..these usually are worse than useless.

    Don’t forget a defrag which can sometimes take several hours if rarely done.

    If all else fails, follow leo’s advice.

  2. While I agree with johnpro2’s post above, be advised.. if you have a SSD drive, do NOT get in the habit of defragging it. SSD drives have no moving parts, so the system wastes no time looking for files. Defragging a SSD drive only shortens the lifespan.

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