How do I remove a program that is not on the Add/Remove programs list? It is
on the All Programs list but doesn’t have an uninstall option. I have searched
all over but can’t see how.
Unfortunately this can get complicated.
Some programs don’t require an uninstaller – all you need do is delete them
(I’ll show you how to do that for most).
Some programs should have an uninstall option and don’t. That’s
where things can get messy.
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I want to start out with a big caveat: if a program does not include an
uninstall utility we have to start making assumptions. Lots of assumptions. And
when we make assumptions, sometimes they’ll be wrong. Most of the time the
steps below will work, but sometimes they won’t. Sometimes a program won’t be
completely uninstalled, and sometimes something else you didn’t plan on will be
affected by the uninstall.
Before you begin any of this, make sure you have a current backup of your
entire system. These are computers: something will go wrong.
And yes, with that big a caveat to begin with, you might consider
not uninstalling whatever it is you’re considering. If it’s not
causing a problem, and it’s not taking excessive disk space, then sometimes just
leaving it all alone until the next reformat is the safer thing to do.
reformat is the safer thing to do.”
Not all programs add themselves to the Add/Remove programs list in Control Panel. Be sure
and check on the Start Menu to see if the program you want to install has placed its uninstall
option there instead.
I’ll start with the simple case: programs that have no uninstaller because
they don’t need one. In these cases the program can be “uninstalled” simply by
locating where the program is installed and deleting it.
Some very simple (in terms of installation) programs just come as a
single “.exe” file. All you need to do is locate and delete that file and
you’re done. A lot of utilities like Process Explorer, which I refer to a lot, fall into this
However, most programs install to “C:\Program Files” and do so by creating
a folder therein names either either for the program, or perhaps for the
company that made it. For example if you’ve installed some program called
“Leo’s Power Widget” and decided you no longer needed it, you might find:
C:\Program Files\Leo’s Power Widget
You can probably just delete that folder and its contents to “uninstall” the
One safety note: if you’re not sure, rename that folder, reboot,
and use your machine for a while. If no errors pop up because the software or
other components couldn’t be found, then that’s an additional indicator that
deleting might be safe.
“But what about the shortcut that’s left in the start menu?” I hear some of
If you didn’t put that there manually, then this is a case of a program that
should have had an uninstall program, but doesn’t. I can think of several
reasons this might be but none of them are, in my opinion, acceptable.
When a program starts making changes elsewhere in your system – to places
other than where it installed – then in my opinion it requires an uninstall
program to clean those changes up. Changes include menu items, folders and data
files elsewhere on your hard drive (such as “Documents and Settings”), and of
course the ever popular registry.
If you want to force an uninstall of a program that does any of these
things, then this is the approach I would take:
Backup your machine. Make sure that if the worst happens
you can restore to a known state. And yes, when playing with some of these
uninstall options “the worst” means rendering your machine unbootable from the
hard drive. Unlikely, but possible.
Locate and Rename the folder containing the program you
want to uninstall, reboot, and run your machine for a while. If you get errors
because of the rename, then something is still depending on that software being
installed. It could be a start-up entry, which we can delete later, or it could
be something more critical which you may not want to play with. You’ll need to
decide based on the error.
Fix any auto-start problems that result by deleting
auto-start entries from your start menu and registry as needed.
Delete the renamed folder. Once again reboot and run your
machine for a while.
Scan for shortcuts to the program you just deleted,
removing them from your Start Menu, desktop, quick launch bar – wherever they
may have been installed.
Ignore the registry. I know many will disagree with me and
will advocate instead searching the registry for settings that are related to
the program and removing them. In my opinion it’s too easy to mess up something
important, and aside from start-up entries we dealt with already, there’s
little benefit to actually cleaning this up anyway. If you must, you’re
probably safer running a registry cleaning utility at this point, but I’m not a
big fan of those either.
As you can see, it can get messy. It’s one reason that uninstallers exist,
and one reason they’re difficult to get right. But in my opinion it’s also
really bad form for an application to really need one, but not provide it.
My general approach to uninstalling is a little different.
I do, occasionally, uninstall software that appears in my Add/Remove
programs list. As you can imagine I try things, and cruft accumulates, so it’s
a quick and relatively safe way for me to clean up a little.
I also keep an eye on my startup programs. When something gets added, I
evaluate whether I really need it long before I might delete the program. By
the time I do delete something its startup entry, if it had one, is long
I reformat my machine every couple of years. That uninstalls
That may seem harsh and in a sense it is, but particularly for someone who
tries things, who installs and uninstalls, and just generally accumulates
things, “software rot” tends to set in. They system becomes just a little
slower, just a little less stable. It shouldn’t, but it does and after a while
a rebuild and reinstall of all the software is the best way to clean it up.
And as I said, it uninstalls everything whether there’s an uninstall
program or not.