The Reasons Why Some Programs Won’t Uninstall

I received a question in the PCMech Premium area that asked if Windows 7 will have an improved Add/Remove that will completely uninstall programs compared to the way XP does it. My answer was an easy no, and I explained why. In this article I go into detail on that.

First I’ll say programs that leave crap behind is definitely not a Windows-only thing. On the Mac it’s more or less required to have App Zapper. In Linux there’s BleachBit. In other words, no OS is safe from crap left behind by third-party programs.

The question however is: Why does this happen in the first place?

There are three basic answers.

Answer 1: The more stuff the program "hooks" into, the more difficult it will be to uninstall.

In the question I received originally, the cited example was Adobe Reader. This software is notorious for leaving a lot of junk behind because of all the stuff it hooks into.

On install, Reader is a standalone program. But on an "express" install it will hook itself into Internet Explorer, and Firefox and possibly Microsoft Office. That’s a lot of stuff Reader got its claws into, and therefore the more difficult it will be to get out.

Answer 2: Not closing programs before uninstall (error on user’s part).

You know how many programs state, "Please close all your applications before installing [this]." The exact same is correct for uninstalling as well. Some programs are "smart" enough to say, "Hey! You! Close your stuff before uninstalling so I can get out of here safely!" However many programs don’t do this.

Example: Java.

The vast majority of us use Java only in the web browser. If the browser is running while you do your uninstall, chances are high something will screw up.

Answer 3: Crappy code.

If a third-party program installs bad, it will uninstall bad. Crap code is crap code, plain and simple, and no operating system can magically fix that.

Things you can do when things screw up with the uninstall of a program

Install it again to uninstall it again

Although this sounds ridiculous, this does work the vast majority of the time. You install something, decide you don’t like it and go to uninstall it. The uninstall procedure gives an error. Uh-oh. So you run a "cleaner" program to get rid of it. That didn’t work either. Are you now stuck with it for life?


Installing the program again will usually fix whatever problem it had, allowing you to uninstall it properly the second time.

Close all programs first

Close the browser(s). Close your anti-virus temporarily. Close anything else you have open. All of it. Do it whether you feel you need to or not. After that, then uninstall.

Using a cleaner? Reboot after uninstall of a program before running it.

You install a program. That program hooks itself into many things. You uninstall that program. However the OS still thinks you have it installed because of the currently loaded session. So you reboot. On the newly established session, the OS then "knows" it’s completely gone. At that point, then you run the cleaner program and not before.

Does the program use add-ons or plugins?

As great as add-ons/plugins are, they can leave behind a ton of junk. Firefox is a good example of this. The uninstall process does not remove all those add-ons you put in there, nor does it remove any configuration files specifically for those add-ons. You need to first uninstall all that stuff before removing the browser program itself.

Avoid upgrading programs if the versions are too far apart

Let’s say that for whatever reason you’re running an ancient version of OpneOffice, version 1. You see version 3.1 and decide it’s a good idea to upgrade.

Not really.

Were you at OO version 2, then I’d say go ahead with the upgrade. But from version 1, no. Too old. Chances are high something will mess up.

What happens with old versions of software is that the new versions that are significantly ahead release-wise will usually not install "clean", thereby causing problems later.

General rule of thumb: If the program in question is two major releases ahead concerning the version number, you’re better off uninstalling the old, and performing a from-scratch install of the new (unless the program in question is specifically supports an upgrade from something two releases or greater behind).

What’s the worst program you had a hard time getting rid of?

Were you able to uninstall it, or is it still there? Do you think it was your error, or do you recommend people stay away from X program like the plague? Let us know in the comments.


  1. well the most Stubborn is SQL server hahaha

  2. For me it was Visual Studio 10. I don’t know what the problem was but when I ran the uninstaller it crashed my whole computer. So I could not uninstall it so I did it manually. It was a pain and a good reason why not to use Beta’s.

  3. Floyd Bufkin says:

    Uninstall works better in safe mode.

    Hardest programs to completely uninstall, Norton and AOL.

  4. Norton was by far the worst for me its was everywhere just when I thought its was gone? It was back trying to update itself.
    I found out that Norton had a uninstaller, which they don’t want just anybody knowing about! So I used the uninstaller and it worked. And UNINSTALLER found a 32 different place that Norton was installed.. Needles to say I DON”T USE NORTON

    • Agree with Bill 100%.
      Norton/Symantec AV is absolutely the most difficult to uninstall. It’s ironic their AV programs are has hard to remove as well written root kit malware, which they can’t uninstall either!

      • Andrew Sheppard says:

        ZoneAlarm Free wouldn’t uninstall, even with Revo Uninstaller plus manual deletions. But Revo Support then kindly sent an e-mail with very effective instructions on how to unininstall ZoneAlarm in safe mode.
        I love Revo – but almsot always do a manual search and find entries even Revo has missed.
        Whenver a program issues a new version, I delete it first. OTHERWISE, THE NEW VERSION WILL CONTAIN ALL SORTS OF NEEDLESS DETAILS OF PREVIOUS VERSIONS MY PC RAN. It all wasdtes space.
        The only exceptions: programmes I yhave tweaked a lot – such as browser add-ons – as it’s too much work to remember and download them all.

  5. Orange Business Everywhere – software for wireless internet, THE WORST software I have used in my life. Don’t touch it as you will probably not be able to remove it

  6. My web search tatto is the one that is giving me a hard time. I cannot get rid of it. OIf anyone know how to please help.

  7. windows 7 keeps saying adobe bridge is open when i try to uninstall programs. it’s not! i even restarted the computer… no idea how to circumvent this.

  8. OnePeacemaker2000 says:

    Yahoo Browser Plus added the Yahoo tool bar to my recently upgraded FireFox. I unclicked the box and said no to the Yahoo tool bar plug in but it did it anyway. Now, the control panel bpuninstll file will not loadm (error msg) and the tool bar is taking up real estate on my small monitor. I consider this tool bar and Yahoo Browser Plus to be MALWARE. Danger! Will Robinson, Danger!

  9. MisleadingPriceGong is my problem right now – I think I have disabled it in the browser. My computer says its a threat. I would rather it be gone not just disabled. I can’t find anything in add/remove to resemble it – it was however in a file and I deleted that. I hate something that takes over my computer or threatens it. What is the next step to get rid of it and why is a threat allowed to attach itself to the computer?

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