The Windows Add/Remove Programs applet in the control panel constantly annoys more advanced users with its limitations. Its load time and lack of features are parts of the problems to say the least.
Thankfully, many freeware programs have emerged that allow for full deletion of programs, including those files, folders, shortcuts and registry entries that are left behind.
Here is a list of my favorites, divided into two sub classes: application uninstallers and Windows uninstaller replacements.
Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide
The top pick for me is Revo Uninstaller, an uninstaller that works more uniquely than others. It can uninstall a program without the need to monitor its installation.
It works by scanning a hard drive and registry for files that would otherwise be left behind. It removes all the program's files, auto start entries and all noticeable registry entries. When you ask Revo to uninstall a program, it first looks for the products uninstall program and will run that program if it is found. Only if the search fails will it try to remove files and registry entries itself.
However, it's possible that a few registry entries and files can sometimes be left over after the process is finished. I ran some tests by getting Revo to uninstall a product whose installation I had monitored using ZSoft Uninstaller (discussed below) to see that all files are accounted for during the uninstallation. Revo did a fine job, though not quite as well as an able user would do manually. There were still some files remaining, notably files stored in the user/local settings folder, but they did no harm other than taking up disk space, and they certainly would not interfere with the normal operation of the PC.
Revo can also act as a before and after uninstaller, but frankly this is not its forte. The freeware utility ZSoft Uninstaller is a better choice for this.
That said, I was very impressed by Revo. It is the only freeware product I know of that will make a decent job of cleaning up a failed install. Next time you encounter a failed install, remember Revo. It does a fine job in most circumstances and offers a lifeline to average users, even though it's not perfect in its un-installation.
A further viable selection is ZSoft Uninstaller. Like many programs in this class, you need to tell ZSoft Uninstaller to monitor an installation before you do the install otherwise the uninstaller doesn't know what has changed. ZSoft Uninstaller does this by taking a file and registry snapshot both before and after the install and then does a comparison to find what's changed.
Another choice is Total Uninstall, which has turned into a commercial product but the last free version is still available from some download sites. It is quite capable but a little slow compared to ZSoft.
The before and after approach used by these products is not foolproof as other files may change in your system during the install which are unrelated to the installation. If you then uninstall, these changes will also be reversed with possible harmful consequences. It's not likely but possible. That's why I recommend using this kind of uninstaller only when the uninstaller provided with the program fails. There's no point risking problems when you don't have to.
MyUninstaller is a more capable product than the Windows version. It gives you much more information about each installed program including product name, company, version, uninstall string, installation folder and Windows Registry details. It also allows you to delete orphaned and obsolete entries from the list, as well as the ability to save a list of all installed applications into a text or html file.
My favorite feature is the ability to sort programs by the date installed which is great for quickly uninstalling programs you are just trying out. As no installation is required, it can be run from a CD or USB drive which makes it an excellent addition to your diagnostic toolkit.
An alternative that offers similar functionality is Safarp. Its great strength is its speed - it loads in a flash. Safarp can be run as a standalone program or installed and integrated into the Control Panel.
Of course, none of these programs can remove leftover registry entries, DLLs and files that belong to defunct programs. To do this you need an application uninstaller, i.e. a program that scans or even monitors the original install so that it can work out more exactly what changes are made during installation, as discussed in the article.
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- Best Free Registry Cleaner
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