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How Do I Recover from a Crash During an Uninstall?

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Running Windows 7 Ultimate, I was trying to uninstall my Microsoft Office Professional 2010 when the PC shut down due to low power. When I later charged it and powered it on I realised the following:

  1. The add/remove software window was just showing a few of my softwares that are installed on the PC.
  2. Most of the software on the pc were no longer responding, showing a message like this, “This action is only valid for products that are currently installed”.

I have tried running safe mode with networking, tried running system repairs but the problem still persists. Please help!

I’m not sure I can. A crash during an uninstall like this is pretty serious.

I do want to give you a couple of straws to grasp at, but perhaps more importantly, I want to discuss why this might have happened, and what you need to do to prevent it from ever happening again.

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Things to try

The symptoms you describe are those of a very confused Windows.

I’m going to assume you have no backup to revert to. I’ll talk more about this in a moment, but if you had taken a backup prior to the problem, you probably wouldn’t need to ask me this question.

I’m not sure exactly what “repairs” you attempted, but in your shoes, here are the things I’d do next.

  • Take an image backup of the machine. This is so no matter what you do, if things get worse instead of better, you can always revert to this point in time.
  • See if you can go back to a previous System Restore point. Since you were dealing with add/remove programs, Windows sometimes automatically creates one for you prior to its work. If the system is operational enough to get at System Restore, you might be able to undo some of the damage.
  • Try a repair-reinstall of Windows 7.

Yes, that’s a very short list. To be clear, I don’t expect it to work.

But it’s worth a try. You have nothing to lose.

A crash during an uninstall: what happened

Computer CrashWhen your system suddenly shuts down in the middle of some kind of work, that work is left undone. That means it’s left in a partially completed state.

In many cases, that can be relatively benign. Perhaps a document doesn’t get saved, an email is lost, or a file isn’t copied to its destination. Each of those might involve loss of some sort, but it’s limited to the item at hand.

Unfortunately, there are some critical files in Windows itself that, if left in a partially complete state, can cause all sorts of problems – including problems similar to what you’ve experienced.

My suspicion is that the crash during the uninstall left the registry in an inconsistent or incomplete state. Adding and removing software is actually mostly about updating the contents of the registry to reflect the addition or removal of the software. Office, as we know, is huge, so there was probably a lot of work going on within the registry at the time of the crash.

The registry is critical to Windows operation, and can cause all sorts of problems if damaged. I’m not a huge fan of System Restore, since it’s not much more than a glorified registry backup that doesn’t always work. But since I suspect the registry is at the root of your problem, System Restore is on that very short list of things to try.

If, as I suspect, it and other alternatives failed, I know of no practical way to proceed, other than starting over.

Reinstalling your system

This is my standard recipe for starting over.

  1. Take a complete image backup of your system as it is right now. That way, you know you won’t lose any important files.
  2. Reinstall Windows from scratch.
  3. Reinstall your applications from scratch.
  4. Restore your data, either from that backup we started with, or from more convenient sources, if you have them.

That’s it – the “nuclear option”, as I sometimes refer to it. When Windows is so broken you can’t fix it, starting over is the only option.

Then learn from the lesson.

Preparing for any disaster

I mentioned earlier that had you taken a backup, you wouldn’t need to ask me this question at all. If you’d had a system image backup, the solution would have been simple.

  1. Restore your machine from the most recent backup, before this problem occurred.

You’d be done.

I talk about backing up so often and write so many articles on the topic because it can solve so many problems. I strongly suggest you begin backing up immediately, by putting  a regular, automated, complete backup regimen into place. Doing that NOW is more important than anything else – even finishing that uninstall of Office 2010.

Avoiding this disaster again

As you’ve seen, unexpectedly removing the power to a computer while it’s running can have disastrous effects, depending on what the computer is doing at the time.

Mobile devices are often required to be connected to power before beginning system updates, for just this reason.

The same is clearly true for laptops and other portable PCs. Either make absolutely certain the battery has enough charge to handle what you’re about to do, or connect it to wall power before beginning. This applies to many different kinds of operations, but it’s particularly important for system updates, including installing and uninstalling software.

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10 comments on “How Do I Recover from a Crash During an Uninstall?”

  1. “That’s it – the “nuclear option”, as I sometimes refer to it. When Windows is so broken you can’t fix it, starting over is the only option.” – While it wouldn’t have helped the person who asked the question, it’s worth noting that Windows 10 has a semi-nuclear option – Reset – which enables you to re-install Windows while optionally keeping your files.

    • So does using the recovery partition on my computer. I still took a backup before I used that option in case something went wrong and made things even worse. All I had to do after running the recovery software and reinstalling the software that I wanted to put back on was to copy my data from the “Old C Drive” folder.

  2. There is also a slight possibility that reinstalling the application that you where uninstalling may resolve your issue. It’s obvious that it won’ t work every times, but if it works, it can save you a lot of grief. At least, it did work for me a few times.
    Many applications can reconstruct their registry entries if they are missing or damaged. Try running them all. If one successfully start, it mean that either it’s entries where intact or it successfully recreated them, or it don’t need any.

  3. If we consumers were willing to spend more money on our computers, we could get desktops with batteries so the CPU could execute a power-fail sequence. Laptops already have a battery, and could detect imminent failure, but who owns such a machine? Software and hardware have to cooperate, so that software could preserve context when power falls below some threshold. I suppose it would cost a fortune to have software that does un-installation treat files as a high-integrity database. Instead, we have toy software that assumes nothing can go wrong.

    • “We could get desktops with batteries so the CPU could execute a power-fail sequence.” – A UPS + PowerChute will do exactly that.

  4. I recently had a system failure due to a faulty NVidia graphics driver update. The NVidia driver update process uninstalled the old video driver before installing the new driver, which failed for a unknown reason. It left my PC without a graphics driver installed. The result was startling, to say the least. My display resolution reverted to what appeared to be 16-bit mode. All the icons on my desktop were outsized and nothing fit properly on the screen. Some software even refused to run. I simply restarted the device with the EASEUS Backup Rescue Disk in the dvd drive and restored an incremental backup made the day before. TA-DAAA!! In 20 minutes I was up and running as if nothing had happened. I thank the FSM that I took Leo’s oft-repeated advice to heart some months ago and started a backup regimen. It saved me a big headache.

  5. Noting that the registry was being updated when the power went down could be the cause made me think. We have power outages once or twice a month out here so this could occur on any of our AC powered PCs. Another opportunity for our old friend Murphy to poke us when we least suspect. But, as Leo notes, having the daily Reflect image puts my mind at ease … the SWAN effect … sleep well at night. Could happen in the big city too … maybe don’t do uninstalls during lightning storms!

      • Thx for the reminder Ray. I looked into these quite a spell ago, the cost-benefit trade didn’t justify the investment. In the years we’ve been up here there’ve been no catastrophic failures (sheer luck and newer systems) and only one P/S replacement; and I keep our NAS box unplugged except when using it. But with tech advances maybe the scale has tipped.
        I don’t so much care about the power going down if we’re working, during our working days we learned to save frequently, and if we’re on-line with family or friends they know about the twitchy grid out where we live when the connection goes dark (bears have broken in only once so it’s likely not that!). My concern is the line fluctuations, so bad that basic surge protectors a near useless for their intended function, almost like a ground loop that keeps resetting them. So, being an old EE, I cobbled together a whole house surge protector at the breaker box line in, also cleans up the generator output a tad. No permits out in the woods, but most work to code … got to keep the place from going up in smoke!

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