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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Undo a Bad Software Install: The Hard Way

If you are reading this, you're either really bored and need an excuse to not cut grandpa's toenails, or your computer could also be in really deep doo-doo, as my Mom would say. If the latter is true, I'm going to make this as simple as possible for you, but be prepared to geek out a bit. We have to do a bit of Vista surgery.

We have to go through a fairly involved series of steps to wipe out all data tendrils that a third-party program puts into the system. But like eating a chunky frog sundae, let's take it one difficult spoonful at a time.

Here's a summary of where we're going:

  1. Figure out where all the program's parts are using the Windows Registry.
  2. Locate application files and folders and delete them.
  3. Find and remove any hidden application data in the C:\Users folder.
  4. Remove Startup items using the System Configuration utility (also called msconfig) and disable related system services and startup items.
  5. Finally, clean up the Windows Registry.

All set? Great, let's get to it. For this example, I'm going to remove Mozilla Firefox manually from the system. Why? Early on, Firefox did not play nice with Vista. In the release version, it does. But at the time, it was a good candidate for removal and was a piece of software that touched most of the system during its installation.

Before You Get Started

Before surgeons perform any kind of operation, they immobilize the patient (well, the good ones do). It's not good practice to remove an appendix while the patient is eating a ham sandwich; likewise with your system. Make sure it is doing nothing else when you do a manual software removal.

Close the application you are going to remove. And close all programs that may be running on the system. You want the system to be running idle.

Set a Restore Point

The System Restore utility can be used to reset the system back to the way it was before this procedure if something goes wrong, so before proceeding, set a restore point. This gives the system a reference point to revert to if something goes wrong. (Don't you wish you could set a relationship restore point before trying to tell your betrothed that those pants aren't working for him/her?)

  1. Be sure you are logged in as an administrator.
  2. Click the Windows button.
  3. Type System Restore and click it when it appears in the Start menu.
  4. Click Continue on the UAC warning dialog.
  5. When the System Restore Wizard pops open, click the Open System Protection link.
  6. Ensure that the C: drive has a check mark next to it on the System Protection tab and then click the Create button at the bottom of the dialog box (see Figure 9.9).
    Figure 9.9

    Figure 9.9 Create a restore point in the System Protection tab of System Properties.

  7. Name the restore point something memorable when the Create a Restore Point dialog box opens. Something like "Before I Removed Firefox Manually" will work. Then click Create. Vista examines the system and creates a restore point.

Clean Out the Registry: Phase 1

Next let's snorkel into the Windows Registry and cut out all the references to the program we want to manually remove from the system.

Here's how, using the hidden Windows applet called regedit or Registry Editor:

  1. Log in to Vista as an administrator.
  2. Click the Start button, type regedit, and press Enter.
  3. Click Continue on the UAC dialog. The Registry Editor window opens.
  4. Click Edit, Find. In the Find window, check the boxes next to Keys, Values, and Data (see Figure 9.10). In the Find What box, type firefox.
    Figure 9.10

    Figure 9.10 Use the Find function to search for Registry keys in the Registry Editor.

  5. Click the Find Next button, and the first entry in the Registry that uses the word firefox is located in the Registry.
  6. When you encounter the first item, inspect it to make sure it's relevant. This is a judgment call that is tough to teach. With Firefox, I wiped out all Registry entries that used the keyword (see Figure 9.11), but use common sense. And if in doubt, don't delete it, or be prepared to do a System Restore afterward if you remove something that causes problems.
    Figure 9.11

    Figure 9.11 This Registry key is just a reference to a URL and is unrelated to the application that is being manually deleted.

  7. Tap the F3 key to jump from one entry to the next, deleting them as you go. This unlinks Firefox from the system. This is sort of like packing your personal belongings before you move out of a house. You take all your furniture and personal effects out of service, but everything is still in your home in boxes—they're just not usable.
  8. When you're done, close out regedit and restart the system, and check to ensure that the system doesn't cough or behave oddly.

Find Files and Folders, Then Nuke 'em

Next, we'll need to locate all the files and folders associated with Firefox. The best way to do this is to use Vista's Search tool:

  1. Click the Windows button, and then on the right side of the Start menu about halfway down, click Search.
  2. When the Search window opens, click Advanced Search in the top-right corner.
  3. When advanced search features appear, locate the Location pull-down, and choose Local Disk (C:) (see Figure 9.13), or whichever hard disk you use as your boot drive.
    Figure 9.13

    Figure 9.13 Use Vista's advanced Search to locate the applications files you want to delete.

  4. Across the top, click Other to exclude Email, Pictures, Documents, and Music.
  5. Also be sure to check the Include Non-indexed, Hidden, and System Files box.
  6. Way in the top-right corner, type firefox in the Search box with the "x" in it. This locates all the files on the system with the word firefox in them. Primarily, you're looking for the file folders that contain the program files.
  7. To select all the files and folders, hold down the Ctrl key and click each item you want to delete so they are multiselected. After the items are highlighted, release Ctrl and press the Delete key to send them to the Recycle Bin.

Remove Startup and Services Settings

As I mentioned in Chapter 3, "Startup and Shutdown Issues," Vista has a tool called System Configuration (or msconfig) that gives you the capability to manage what is loaded into memory when Windows starts up (see Figure 9.14).

Figure 9.14

Figure 9.14 Use the System Configuration utility to eliminate any startup applets or services related to your application.

You'll have to use msconfig to clear out any unwanted startup items related to the program you are removing:

  1. Click the Windows button, type msconfig, and press Enter.
  2. A UAC warning screen appears; click Continue.
  3. The System Configuration utility launches.
  4. The two tabs we are interested in are Services and Startup. Click on the Services tab and scroll down, looking for any entries called firefox.
  5. You won't find any because Firefox doesn't create any services when it is installed. However, if you're reading this, I am sure you're following along to remove another application. So, see whether it has any services listed. If there is, uncheck it and click Apply; then click OK.
  6. You might be prompted to restart the computer. Don't do this yet—first click the Startup tab (see Figure 9.15).
    Figure 9.15

    Figure 9.15 Check the Startup tab and uncheck any items related to the application you are annihilating.

  7. If a program launches when Vista starts, this is where it is triggered from. In the case of Firefox, there aren't any items here. But check to see whether the program you are removing (or a related helper applet) is listed here. If so, uncheck it.

Next up, we have to check what services are running in memory. So don't restart yet.

  1. To see whether any related services are running, launch the Task Manager by simultaneously pressing the Ctrl, Alt, and Del keys.
  2. A utility screen appears with a list of tasks. Click on Start Task Manager (see Figure 9.16).
    Figure 9.16

    Figure 9.16 Check your computer's memory to see whether any related services are running using the Task Manager.

  3. The screen switches back to your desktop, and the Task Manager dialog box appears.
  4. Click on the Services tab and look for any entries related to the software you are uninstalling (in my example, it would be Firefox). There should be no entries because you have already removed most of the program, but if any survived, kill them off by right-clicking and choosing Stop Service.

Finally, you will want to restart your computer.

Clean Out Your Registry: The Clean Up

The next and final phase (you're almost there) is to delete any remaining Registry entries that you couldn't kill off before. You can't delete Registry entries if they have associated processes running live in memory.

So this time, we're going to clean any residual Registry entries by sweeping the Registry in Safe mode. Safe mode loads only the bare essentials into memory to run Vista, so it's a good place to do precision Registry housecleaning.

So, let's get that done:

  1. Restart your system and enter Safe mode once again.
  2. Launch the Registry Editor by clicking the Windows button. Type regedit and then press the Enter button.
  3. Click Continue on the UAC warning, if it appears.
  4. Click Edit, Find (or press Ctrl+F) to open the Find window.
  5. In the Find window, make sure the Keys, Values, and Data boxes are checked.
  6. In the Find What box, type the search term that you have been using to locate Registry keys related to the application you are removing. (I would type firefox here.)
  7. Click the Find Next button, which shows the first entry associated with your keyword in the Registry.
  8. When it finds the first entry, hit the Delete key (or right-click on the highlighted entry and click Delete).
  9. Click Yes on the Confirm Value Delete dialog box to approve the action.
  10. Tap the F3 key to find the next entry. Repeat this until all entries are deleted.
  11. At this point your computer should be free of all remaining unwanted Registry entries.

Finally, restart your computer normally and check to see that the system is free of the deleted application and that it is working normally and without any further complications. If so, congratulations! You're one step closer to being an elite Vista geek.

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