Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Is it OK to leave software I don't use on my machine?


I have a number of large programs installed which I seldom use. Other than
occupying disc space is it not a good idea to leave little used programs on the

One reason why I am reluctant to remove them is that I have mislaid a few of
the installation discs. If I copy the installed program to disc and try to
reinstall it the wizard is unable to do so. Presumably some files have been
lost during installation. Is there a way to overcome this problem?

If you’re not worried about disk space there’s nothing wrong with leaving
software you don’t use on your machine. There is at least one thing you should
check, though.

As for ways to reinstall software for which you’ve lost the installation
disks, that’s a thorny issue without a clear answer.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

The most common reason for kicking off unused software is disk space. But
with disks being so very large and inexpensive, that’s not the issue that it
once was.

And to be really clear: if disk space is the only issue, and it’s not an
issue for you, then I’d leave things alone. I have lots of programs on my
machine that I don’t use, or don’t use often, and simply haven’t bothered to
take the time to uninstall or remove. Once in a while in a fit of cleanliness I
might uninstall something that’s obviously never going to get used again, but
often only on my laptop where I have a smaller hard disk.

However disk space may not be the only issue.

While I don’t necessarily uninstall a lot of software, I do check the

“… if disk space is the only issue, and it’s not an
issue for you, then I’d leave things alone.”
  • Startup Items – a lot of software installs items that run
    automatically at start-up. Some go away after they run, serving only to slow
    down your system startup time. Others remain running, eating up some amount of
    your processor and available memory, and often adding an icon to the
    notification area of your task bar. I scan my startup items carefully and
    remove any that are not critical, or any that are clearly part of software that
    I don’t use often. It’s not always easy to know what’s critical, but it’s often
    very easy to identify a few things you know you don’t need.

  • Desktop Icons – I know, I’m kinda different this way, but I
    have between 3 and 5 icons on my desktop, and that’s all. I figure my desktop’s
    covered most of the time anyway, so why have a lot of stuff on it? So I
    typically delete all but a few desktop icons, just to keep it clean.

  • Quick Launch Icons – I use the quick launch bar a lot.
    Unfortunately many applications insist that they’re so important that they need
    to be there too. They don’t. Particularly for software I’m not using, I just
    delete the shortcuts in the quick launch toolbar on my task bar.

You’ll note one thing I did not mention: the start menu itself. For any
program that remains on my machine, the I leave the start menu alone. If I
decide I do want to run the application, I can find it there.

Now, about not having install disks for a lot of your software…

First, let me emphasize one thing: backup your system using one of the
commercially available backup tools that backs up everything. It sounds like
those applications reside only on your hard disk – if you had a
failure, then most of those applications would be lost forever. A good backup
program would allow you to restore to a known working snapshot of your

This is also one of the reasons I so strongly recommend getting installation
CDs with your system, even if the software is all pre-installed. Failures
happen, and if you have nothing to reinstall from, you’re probably out of

As a general rule, there’s no blanket answer. Many programs will simply work
if you copy them from one machine to another. Typically these are smaller
applications and utilities that don’t need a complex setup. Larger applications
and application suites, however, typically require their setup. If you don’t
have the installation media, you may well be out of luck.

One thing to check for, regardless of application, is the vendor’s web site.
You may be able to download updates or new versions of applications you already
own. What you’ll want to do now is see if, depending on the application, you
can record a registration code or activation key from within the software. Save
those somewhere in case the downloaded update requires it.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

3 comments on “Is it OK to leave software I don't use on my machine?”

  1. It’s not possible to just copy the program to the disc, and then re-install in to another computer, because when you installed it the first time, some of the files went to different places (not just to the program folder). Otherwise, piracy would be rampant! Even if you un-install programs, there a still fragments all over the place (associated files and such). It’s a good idea to go through the list, and reformat the machine (which should be done every once in a while anyway), and then just NOT re-install those neglected programs again.

  2. I have a program by McAfee called “Uninstaller” which among other features, enables you to assemble a program to transport it to another computer. Generally, it has worked well for me to make backups. I don’t know if it is still available, but you might find it in Recycled Software or some other such website.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.