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Toward a more positive Vista uninstall experience

Like it or not, sometimes applications wind up on Vista desktops that have to go. Either they’ve been replaced with something different, newer, or better, or they never should have been there in the first place. Count yourself lucky if a program’s uninstall utility does a thorough job of removing its traces from the file system, the desktop, and the Windows registry. My own informal testing with hundreds of Vista apps indicates that about every other one does a decent or better job of cleaning up after itself, with no additional clean-up required. That’s not lucky enough to justify buying a lottery ticket, in other words, but it is lucky enough to guess “Heads or tails?” in a friendly coin toss.

What to do when applications leave detritus behind? This can include orphaned icons, orphaned file associations, files and folders in the %SystemDrive%\Program Files folder, and all kinds of odd and interesting leftovers in the Windows registry. Occasionally, you may even finder helper or support applications left behind (such as various types of viewers, players, or other software the program uses to display certain files, but may not remove from your system even though it cleans up its own code quite nicely), and so forth. The answer to this dilemma depends on which installer the program uses, and what kinds of tools you’ve got at your disposal.

Let me mention two particular items of interest in this context:

  • Revo Uninstaller
    A free, handy, and quite usable tool that even offers various levels of post-vendor-uninstall-cleanup for you to choose. Basically, you use this tool to launch a program’s built-in uninstaller from inside this program. Revo Uninstaller watches what that program does, then checks the file system and the registry for you to remove additional remaining traces after the built-in program does its job. I’ve been using it for a couple of years now, and it’s a capable and well-maintained tool (they post updates on a regular basis, sometimes as often as once or twice a month). Grab it at For a more complete review of this tool see my recent article “Should Software Makers Clean Up After Themselves?
  • Windows Installer Cleanup Utility
    This tool comes from Microsoft, the same folks who created the Windows Installer, and the most likely party to use this tool for installing software (though you do find a fair number of third-party utilities that do likewise). It only works with programs that use the Windows Installer to install themselves, but it is able to clean up after incomplete or failed installs that originate with that tool. MS Help and Support provides information about and access to this tool in their “Description of the Windows Installer Cleanup Utility” article (KB290301). Please note that this tool will not clean up mangled Microsoft Office 2007 installs, and if the Windows registry’s Windows Installer configuration management data gets munged, you may be likewise out of luck.

If you run into problems or issues with these tools, there are plenty of commercial uninstaller programs that work on Vista. Fortunately for my own Vista machines, I’ve yet to encounter an uninstall problem that one or the other of these tools can’t handle. That said, if you have any experience or favorites you’d like to share, please post a comment to this blog and let us all know. I’ll keep an eye out, and review such items as attract glowing mention and my own fancy.

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