What is an Uninstall Registry Key?

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There comes a time when you or someone using your system downloads or installs a program, app or tool you later want removed. The reasons behind the removal could be that the program is not performing as intended, has a glitch that's conflictive with the OS or other programs and services, or simply, it was maliciously installed and is thus performing malicious and annoying acts. Whatever the reason, you, the owner of the PC, have the right to remove any program at any time, although sometimes this is easier said than done. The uninstall strings for most applications may be found in the uninstall registry key:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall
Depending on the operating system you're using, will determine your options. For example, many operating systems come with their own utility to uninstall programs. Most Windows OS versions store this utility or feature under Control Panel, under Programs (uninstall). If you know the name of the program you wish to remove and it is listed, you can highlight it, right click and select 'uninstall.' Sounds simple but only if the program is listed, right? But why wouldn't a program you are certain is installed be listed here? Before we answer that question, let's detail what happens during installation of a program.
  • All programs have one or more associated components, i.e. files and upon installation, these files are copied or stored in a folder, usually the Programs File Folder. Shared libraries or .dll files may also be copied in the Program Files under a sub-folder named Common Files. Drivers or .dll files may too be copied in the Windows Sys 32 Folder, etc.
  • The 'installer' makes edits to the registry to associate the program with its files (wherever they are mapped) or run the program when Windows is booted. An example is when the Microsoft Word program is run and you want access to Word documents. Another key should be added that registers the program in the Add/Remove Programs listing.
  • A setup log should be stored along with the programs uninstaller, so that when (or if) the user wants to effect removal Windows checks the registry for the uninstaller and runs it. The installer then looks for all associated components, i.e. files, components, processes (i.e. registry entries) and removes them. Well, this is if everything was set up correctly in the first place.
So, if the log wasn't created in the first place, the installer would not know which associated components to remove, and thus its operation will fail or be stalled. The same result happens if the program is absent an installer. Such a dilemma might leave you wondering what to do next. A failed uninstall, for whatever reason, demands either manual removal or use of a third party tool or uninstaller utility.

Third-Party Uninstaller Utilities

To add merchantability, many third-party utilities expand their services, offering a logger, watcher, analyzer and in some cases, cleaners, not that you really need these extra tools. Some 'free' offerings have a hidden agenda and may bundle spyware or malware. While legitimate programs have good intention, some do not perform as promised and can do more harm than good, which is why you simply MUST do your homework before settling on an external solution. Honestly, the installer utility that comes with your operating system is probably your safest and best bet. In cases where using this service fails, i.e. the program is not listed or a log file was not added, you should consider using a stealth antimalware tool to ensure every component is found and removed, especially those of a malicious nature. However, if you're skilled and comfortable working in the Windows Registry on your own, you too could manually remove these unwanted components yourself.
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