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How do I know what programs are safe to uninstall?


I use Windows XP and am wanting to rid my computer of programs that I never use or rarely use. I know about using the removal function in the control panel. My question has to do with “How do I know that it’s okay to remove these program?”

For example, I have a program that’s called “Java2 Runtime Environment SE v1.4.2_03” This program takes up 135.00MB and it’s used “Rarely.” I have several programs like this that are used “Rarely.” It is okay to remove them?

It’s my experience that “rarely” is rarely accurate. I have no idea how that moniker is created, but for the most part my sense is – it ain’t right. I just checked, and a program that I use quite literally every day (the HTML editor in which I write these articles) is listed as being used “rarely”, and last used about 5 months ago.

That’s so wrong as to completely remove any trust I have in any of the other tags of “rarely” in the Add/Remove entries.

Unfortunately, that kind of limits the information we have at hand in order to make our decisions.

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Windows XP's Add/Remove software list
Windows XP’s Add/Remove software list

I rarely do what you’re doing. My experience is that as a cleanup measure it’s not really that effective. The amount of disk space recovered is typically small compared to the size of the drive, and there’s rarely any performance gain. In fact, the only time I use add/remove at all is if there’s a specific program I’ve identified that’s causing me some kind of grief, and where I’ve decided that uninstalling it is the way to remove the problem.

Otherwise, I let sleeping applications lie.

So ultimately, I’m going to suggest that you consider doing the same – don’t bother uninstalling something unless you have a specific reason to do so. The time invested typically isn’t worth the return.

If you want to do it anyway, then I have a single, simple rule of thumb: uninstall only items that you’re certain of. (OK, there’s another rule “in front of” that: backup first, just in case. But you already knew that, right? Smile)

Your Java2 Runtime environment is a great example. If you’re not sure, don’t uninstall it.

In the case of Java, it’s support software installed on your machine and used by some web sites to provide rich or interactive experiences when you visit. It’s often used for games or chat features, but can be used for much much more. Do you need it? No idea – it depends on what web sites you visit. Is it safe to delete? Probably, but it’ll also likely come back the first time you visit a web site that needs it. Is it safe to leave? Almost certainly.

But that’s just one entry in a long list of add/remove entries. What about the rest?

There’s no simple answer.

In short I suggest:

  • removing only those that you recognize and know you no longer need.
  • leaving those that you recognize and know you use.
  • leaving anything related to Microsoft .NET Framework (all versions), Microsoft Office, Microsoft Silverlight, Windows Internet Explorer and Windows XP/Vista/7 updates
  • researching anything else that you don’t recognize that for some reasons seems like it could be worth removing.

That last one boils down to “Google it”. Or Google “What is ” followed by the name of the software or entry listed in Add/Remove programs.

The problem is that there’s so much software – be it applications, application components, updates or support systems like Java – that could show up in that list there’s simply no comprehensive way to know what they all could possibly be, nor any rule of thumb we can use to determine how useful they are or are not.

And as we’ve seen, we certainly can’t rely on the “Used: rarely” indication.

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12 comments on “How do I know what programs are safe to uninstall?”

  1. Thanks Leo! You’ve answered my question quite well. I guess the bottom-line is if you’re in doubt about removing something . . . then don’t do it.

  2. While getting rid of programs may not speed up your system or give you any significan disk space savings, using MSCONFIG to stop programs from loading when you start up windows will speed up the start-up times a bit and free up some memory. I personally remove Open-Office and Adobe Pdf reader from the start-up. These programs pre-load themselves to make it appear that they are loading faster when you click on them. I rarely use these programs so I only load them when I need them. Simply run MSCONFIG and Google any processes you aren’t sure of.

  3. Lets start with Java: the fact that a software that is the base of the internet is labeled as rarely use should tell you enough about thew accuracy of the labeling. BTW , since it’s an extremely important soft it must always be updated , for security reasons , to the latest version – yours is dangerously obsolete.
    As for the rest of the programs, judge for yourself , after googling them, what you no longer need.

  4. Yes, sleeping dogs don’t bother (much), but what happens when your start menu becomes full? I fool around a bit trying new things, but found my start-up menu actually became full to the point I couldn’t see a program start option. Now what?

    Right click on items in your start menu and click delete. They’re only shortcuts, and deleting them will not uninstall any software.


  5. If you do choose to uninstall a program I would suggest you use REVO UNINSTALLER as it removes all the stuff left behind in the registry when you use add/remove…

  6. I observe the following rule of thumb. When in doubt about whether to uninstall a program or not, find the program’s folder in Windows’ \Program Files folder and rename it by adding this to it”.del” (for example, rename C:\Program Files\Typing Tutor to C:Program Files\Typing Tutor.del). If, after six weeks or so of normal computer operation, you haven’t received an error message or other dire warnings concerning that program, you can consider it safe to uninstall.

    Frank D

    Make sure you reboot at least once in that six weeks. Smile The impact of some renames doesn’t become apparent until the machine has been rebooted. But overall it’s a good technique that I’ve also recommended.

  7. All of the above contain excellent advice!
    The point about “…cleaning up files…” is that it is extremely difficult to identify what IS or IS NOT used or will be needed at any given time!
    The only way you find out if that annoying file or program was needed is when your system crashes! Always at a vital time of course!
    Even worse though is installing programs that you know little about (do they contain a trojan horse?) in order to test or play with them. If you do that and your PC becomes full then…
    a) You are likely to get problems some time and
    b) You ‘deserve’ them!!
    This is a complex bit of machinery you are sitting at. Do NOT fill it up with ‘garbage’. If you DO need to ‘look at’ a program then DELETE it once you have checked it out and decided you don’t want it!
    It did not ‘arrive by magic’ and it will certainly not ‘dissolve’ that way. Mind you… the concept of ‘dissolving programs’ ie. ones you have to re-register is something I almost support!

    “If it ain’t broke… LEAVE IT”!?

    (74 years young and 50 years with computers in January 2010! :=))

  8. If you in doubt on what to delete, I suggest that you get winPatrol Plus and look up the program or file on their site to see if it is safe to delete

  9. I was just about to suggest the Revo Uninstaller programme but see someone else has mentioned it. I find it very useful and have had no problems with it

  10. Check your list of installed programs in the Start Menu (Windows) or Applications folder (Mac). Look for any programs you don’t recognize or haven’t used in a long time.


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