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Why Might an Uninstalled Program Still Be Listed?

Question: I’m running Windows XP, SP3, fully updated. I was running AVG anti-virus free edition 2012 until I uninstalled it when I started using Microsoft Security Essentials. Belarc Advisor still lists AVG anti-virus with real-time file scanning turned on. Speccy lists similar information and states that the virus signature database is up to date. Both also show Microsoft Security Essentials as being up and running. I downloaded and ran the AVG 2012 uninstall program and used search/Windows Explorer to find and delete any remaining AVG files. Belarc Advisor and Speccy still say that AVG free edition 2012 is still installed, up to date, and real-time scanning. Do you have any suggestions how I can overcome this problem?

Let me begin by asking this question: is this really a problem?

I get that it’s an annoyance. I wouldn’t expect those utilities to show something that you have so clearly and thoroughly uninstalled.

The problem is that the solutions we have aren’t really as clean as we might want them to be. If we want to actually clean this out completely, that involves a little risk.

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No program left behind?

The fundamental problem here is that the uninstall process that you used didn’t completely uninstall the program.

It may be on purpose. Very often, uninstallers actually do leave information, like settings, behind. That’s done so that if you come back and reinstall that software, your settings are preserved and you don’t have to start over from scratch. That’s a choice that the uninstall program may or may not be making and that could be enough to fool some of these other analysis programs into thinking that the software is still around.

It may be an error. Uninstall programs notoriously get short shrift when it comes to software development resources. Sometimes, they just end up being sloppy1 about clearing things out.

And sometimes there are simply technical issues that actually prevent an uninstall program from cleaning up completely. Like I said, they’re technical; they shouldn’t happen. But having been there myself, I know that sometimes they do.

Cleaning UpLeft in the registry

The issue here is that more than likely information is left in the registry. The problem is that most techniques to remove it from the registry are going to involve some risk.

The lowest-risk option, in my opinion, would be to use a program like Revo Uninstaller and see if that can locate more of the remnants of the tools that you’re uninstalling. They do have several degrees of uninstall aggressiveness that you can choose from and I believe that the most aggressive approach actually tries to address exactly what I’ve discussed so far.

A registry cleaner may or may not clean this up. It can also make things worse. If you must, it’s on the list fo things to try, but please read What’s the best registry cleaner? for my thoughts and a couple of specific recommendations.

Manually searching the registry may in fact find the information. But I really don’t recommend doing this. You can do serious damage if you touch, delete, or otherwise fiddle with the wrong thing.

Whatever you do, make sure that you back up first. Back up your system before you start getting aggressive about cleaning this stuff up.

Honestly, if this were my computer, I don’t think I would do a thing. If the only symptom is that the system analysis tools are reporting things that aren’t there, I’d leave well enough alone.

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Footnotes & references

1: With apologies to all the folks who write great setup programs – I know you’re out there too. It’s just that in my experience you rarely get the resources you need to do the job to the degree you really want to.

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