How to Remove Computer Programs You Don't Use

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Getting rid of stuff you no longer use should be simple: Stuff it in the trash; donate it to charity; give it to a friend. If only it were so simple to get rid of computer programs you no longer use!

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If your computer is more than a couple of years old, it's likely that the hard drive is starting to fill up. One way to recover valuable disk space -- and therefore, improve PC performance -- is to get rid of software you rarely or never use.

In Windows, start by opening the Control Panel and selecting "Add or Remove Programs." A list will populate of all the programs on the computer.

Many off-the-shelf PCs come with pre-installed programs you might not even know were there, sometimes referred to as "bloatware." These may include Internet providers, media players, DVD-burning assistants, photo downloaders, how-to guides, support services, security software, games and more. If you've never used them, these should be the first to go.

Next, think about games or programs you haven't used in a while. For example, your old digital camera probably came with software to download and archive your photos, but if you've since moved on to a new camera, the old software probably isn't needed any more. See ya.

Finally, consider the small programs that we often collect from the Internet, including browser toolbars, security scanners and small utilities or games. Do you still use them? Do you need them? If not, buh-bye.

Most programs come with the ability to "uninstall" themselves. But sometimes these uninstallers fail in the middle of the process, and often they leave little traces of the software on your hard drive or registry. So it's important to do a thorough job of truly sweeping it clean.

The Windows Add/Remove Programs feature is a good place to start. If you spot something on the list you no longer need, click "Remove" and follow the steps that ensue.

For most software, this method will suffice. But occasionally Windows will cough while uninstalling, saying it can't remove a program because it's in use. This may occur because the program is running in the background, like many security or system utilities do. You'll either need to exit out of those programs completely, or click Control+Alt+Delete to bring up the Task Manager and end the process. Then you can try uninstalling again.

A more thorough way to uninstall a program is to find its uninstaller in the Start Menu. Click Start and All Programs, and find the program you want to remove. If there's an uninstall tool in the folder, click it to begin the process. These product-specific uninstallers often do a better job of truly removing the program than the generic Windows uninstaller. Bear in mind that different software may have different uninstallers, so don't be thrown off if the experience varies.

This is a good method to use if you have multiple programs from the same manufacturer, such as Microsoft, Symantec or Adobe. Sometimes software companies share files between two different programs, so the built-in uninstaller can make the best decision about what should stay and what can go.

Similarly, many software installation CDs come with an uninstaller. So if you can't find the uninstaller in the Start Menu or remove the program from the Control Panel, try loading in the CD-ROM if you still have it, and look for an uninstall utility on the disc.

Finally, once you're done uninstalling a program, remember to go back and delete any files you created with the program. For example, if you delete that old program that helped you print out CD labels, you can probably get rid of the label files themselves. Anything to open up some hard drive space!

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