The Art of the Uninstall

By | August 29, 2005

I’ve just spent an hour removing programs from my Windows XP machine. I have far too many programs anyway, but removing them is not made any easier by a lack of basic standards among software developers, who seem to consider software removal as a chance for some creative licence and a last-gasp effort to suck more out of the already exhausted customer. Here are some don’ts for developers who want to retain the faintest goodwill among users who are uinstalling their software:

  • Include an uninstall link in the StartUp menu and in the Add or Remove Programs section of the Control Panel. This makes it easier to remove stuff; not doing so doesn’t raise the chance the user will keep using your program;
  • Don’t open a browser link without warning at the end of the uninstallation begging for feedback. You’re just asking for insults. Removing a program means the user is removing the program. If they want to give you feedback, you’re bound to hear from them. Assume the customer has as little time to spare as you have;
  • Don’t insist the customer reboots after uninstallation. This is sloppy programming, and it’s hard to imagine any software that absolutely needs to reboot immediately to uninstall completely or for the computer to continue functioning. Nokia, sadly, seems particularly egregious in this sin.
  • Do a good job of clearing everything out. Don’t leave rubbish in the Registry or subfolders in the sneaking hope the customer may come back.
  • Make sure the installation process is clean and doesn’t involve lots of access to installation files that may have moved. If the program is already gone, and only the link remains, remove that;
  • If the StartUp menu link has moved – because the user, shock, indulges in a bit of shortcut management — be smart enough to find and remove those links upon installation. Uninstall that leaves dead links are silly.

This may not be the last your customer sees of your software, but the manner of its departure is likely to influence whether or not the customer comes back. Make uninstall smooth, intuitive and fast. No tricks, no gimmicks. They may simply be temporarily removing your software for reasons of space, not because they don’t like it. The faster they can get rid of your software, the less of a drama you make it for them, the more grateful they’ll be and the more likely they’ll invite you back onto their computer.

2 thoughts on “The Art of the Uninstall

  1. Akshay

    This may fall under the “clean install” bit, but how about the “Some of these files may be shared and removing them may cause other programs to malfunction!” message? The files in question are so obviously named for the application being uninstalled … why bother asking?


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