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Computer Care: Scrub unused programs off your PC
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Twice annually, I swap out the clothes in my closet. I tend to have a larger collection of shirts than most guys, since my wife owns a clothing store. To make room for sweaters, I need to pack away my tropical shirts.

It was also time for me to swap out computer programs on my laptop. As with the shirts, I tend to have more applications than the average guy, being the techno-geek that I am. I do a lot of downloading and experimenting; I need to test the waters so I can report to you if a program is worth having or not.

The trouble is, it catches up with me on occasion and on this occasion I found about a dozen apps I no longer use, need or want.

Everybody has them: outdated utilities, old kids' games and programs you tried but never used.

My experience has showed me that although with good intentions, most people don't correctly remove unwanted programs from their computers.

Programs are all over your hard drive. An installed application goes to the Windows program files folder, the start menu, the desktop and to the system registry.

Removing an application from one of those locations may stop Windows from loading it, but that will cause other issues by leaving fragments behind. That leads to corruption. When a system looks for something that isn't there it goes into brain-lock.

You can first see if the program in question has its own uninstaller. That's the best one to use.

If not, use the one included in Windows. In XP, go to the Start menu and then click on Control Panel, then "Add/Remove Programs." Just follow the prompts from there.

In Vista or Windows 7, type, "remove" or "uninstall" in the search box and then click on the link to "Add or remove a program." Alternatively, look for "Programs" or "Programs and Features" in Control Panel and follow the links and directions provided after that to uninstall a program.

I like to use a third-party uninstaller, mainly because it cleans up after itself. First, it will try to remove the program using the application's own uninstallation utility. If not there, it will use other methods. Then it will flush the system registry of any remnants that reference the program.

At this point, you need to remember to restart system. Your program will then be gone. If you have many to remove, uninstall them one at a time and reboot after each one. It's time-consuming, but worth the effort. If you take shortcuts with something like this, it will come back later to bite you.

There is a plethora of uninstallers that you can download, many of them free. As always, I recommend download.com as a source. You not only get a reputable program from them, but you know if it is a free, trial or paid version of the product. You also get ratings and comments, not just from the editors of the site (who are unbiased for the most part) but also from users like you and me.

There are similar sites, including filehippo.com, majorgeeks.com, freewarefiles.com and pcworld.com that offer files to download.

All of these sites are supposed to be clean (virus-free), but it's always a good idea to scan any incoming files to prevent a system infection.

The apps that I've tested and liked are available in both free and paid versions. They include: Your Uninstaller, Revo Uninstaller, Advanced Uninstaller, Iobit Uninstaller and Ashampoo Uninstaller.

Many utility suites, system optimizers and registry cleaners have uninstallers incorporated in them, as with the cases of Advanced System Care and CCleaner.

Programs like Your Uninstaller have various methods to try to remove an app, including using force if necessary. It even has a "hunter" mode that will erase the program from its desktop icon.

If your program remover doesn't check your registry, make sure you then use a separate registry cleaner after you uninstall your programs. If the cleaner asks you questions, go with the default choice. When in doubt, don't delete a value if you are not sure about it.

This is where you should reboot the computer and then set a system restore point when it comes back. Should something go wrong down the road, that restore point is where you want to go back to.

It used to be that only junk programs were free; not so anymore. Even if the one you want is not free, you can usually use it (full-feature) for a week or two before deciding to either buy or toss it.

That brings me back where I began. I tend to let those unused apps pile up.

Now my closet and laptop are both clean. The computer runs faster and there is less clutter on my desktop since removing all those apps I thought I couldn't live without. I don't miss those unused programs, but I sure do miss my tropical shirts. It's going to be a long winter.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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