If you find that sometimes you can't remove programs from your computer, read on. We have all the top tips you need.
Most programs can be relied on to act with reasonable decency when asked to remove themselves from your computer.
That's what the built-in uninstaller is for, after all - but sometimes things go wrong, or programs appear to come with no installer at all. What can you do then? You don't want it cluttering up your computer, so how do you get rid of it?
In this guide we'll show you what to do when you can't remove programs in XP, Vista or Windows 7.
1. Check Control Panel
All program installers should be registered in the Add or Remove Programs (XP) or Programs and Features (Windows 7/Vista) Control Panel. Check here first for the program in question - some may appear in the "View installed updates" section, such as Internet Explorer 8 in Vista (look in the Microsoft Windows section).
If you see an entry, but can't remove the program from Add or Remove Programs due to an error, keep reading for an alternative solution.
2. Search for installer
If you can't remove a program from Control Panel because there's no entry, see if the uninstall utility exists elsewhere. To do this, click Start > All Programs and check the program's shortcut folder for a possible uninstaller.
If nothing is found, look inside the program's main folder for a program like uninst/uninst.exe or unwise/unwise.exe. Also look for any text or ini files that might refer to the program's installation - open these and you may find details you can follow to manually remove the program from your computer if all else fails.
3. Reinstall the program
Some incomplete or corrupted program installations can be fixed simply by reinstalling the program over the top of itself using its setup utility. If you're really lucky, the setup utility might even recognise the existing installation and give you the option to modify, repair or - better still - uninstall or remove the program from your computer. Even if it doesn't, reinstalling may recreate that elusive uninstaller.
4. Get some help
Check the program's documentation or website for uninstallation instructions or a manual removal tool - you may find the program is a "portable" application, which means it's self-contained in a single folder. All you have to do then is delete this folder along with any shortcuts you've created.
5. Ditch your security tool
If you're trying to get rid of a security program, try using the free AppRemover tool, which works with most security programs and in many cases does a more thorough job of removing the program than its own uninstaller. If you have problems installing another tool after trying to uninstall your security program in the usual manner, try this.
6. Use a third-party tool
IOBit Uninstaller is a free, lightweight portable application that might just help if you can't remove a program. Use it in Standard mode for a basic uninstall, or choose Advanced mode to hunt down leftover Registry entries and files, ensuring the program is thoroughly dispatched from your PC.
It can also help with programs that come with no uninstaller or entry in Add or Remove Programs: just click Forced Uninstall to select the program file and see if IOBit Uninstaller can find the Registry entries and files needed to remove the program from your PC after a powerful scan has been performed.
7. Clean up partial installs
Some problems may be caused by the Windows Installer. If the setup program has a MSI file extension, was only partially installed and now refuses to go quietly, this is the likely problem.
If you're attempting to remove Office 2003 or later, visit http://support.microsoft.com/kb/290301 for a free tool that should be able to help you removed the failed install.
If you're running a different program in Windows Vista or earlier, then you can try the Windows Installer Cleanup Tool instead. It's been known to cause problems with Office 2007, so use it entirely at your own risk: Microsoft has retired it for this reason, but it's still widely available from download sites such as Softpedia. Once installed, launch the tool, select your problematic program from the list and click Remove.
If Windows Installer keeps throwing up error messages when you attempt to uninstall a program, try the troubleshooting steps at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/555175, or update to the latest version (3.1) through Windows Update.
8. Close running processes
Some programs refuse to uninstall because other files are in use - reboot your PC and try again, or look for a Notification area icon you can use to shut the program down. If all else fails, right-click the Taskbar and choose Task Manager > Processes tab: identify the program's process from here, select it and click End Task. Once done, try removing it again.
Certain files may refuse to delete because they're currently in use: try a clean boot following Microsoft's guide to see if you can now remove the program; failing that, use KillBox to delete the stubborn file.
9. Remove manually
If you know what you're doing, you could try removing the program by hand: boot into Safe mode, then look for the program's folder under C:\Program Files or C:\Program Files (x86). Once deleted, use a program like Autoruns to locate and delete any start-up entries.
Finally, make careful use of a Registry cleaner like CCleaner or search the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software key for entries relating to the program that you are happy to delete. It's by no mean a complete removal, but most of the program should have been dispatched.
10. Monitor future installs
The best way to avoid this kind of problem in future is to use a tool like Comodo Program Manager. This monitors program installations enabling you to easily remove them even if problems occur during installation or the program fails to provide its own uninstaller.
The current version (1.0) is a little flaky, so consider installing the latest beta from the Comodo forums if you run into trouble: free registration is required.
Liked this? Then check out 10 tips for getting rid of stubborn malware
Sign up for TechRadar's free Weird Week in Tech newsletter
Get the oddest tech stories of the week, plus the most popular news and reviews delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up at http://www.techradar.com/register