Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

Mac users have an uninstaller, too, and all users, of Windows and Mac alike, should be cautious while installing

April 12, 2009

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, The Post-Standard

   Last week, I raved about a new -- and free -- Windows program called Revo Uninstaller. It's able to track down all the leftover pieces of any unwanted Windows program and get rid of it for good. (You can read about it and find out where to get it at www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec041209.html.)
   This week, I'll recommend an uninstaller for Macs, and I'll offer some handy tips on foolproof software installations for both Windows and Mac users.
   When Windows PCs have problems with programs that won't uninstall properly, the guilty part is almost always a huge data collection called the registry. Luckily, the Mac has no registry, so all you have to do on a Mac is to drag the application to the trash.
   While this works fine -- it's literally all that's needed -- dragging applications to the trash will always leave behind tiny files called "preferences" for each program that's uninstalled. They pile up fast if you try out a lot of shareware and freeware. Other files can get orphaned, too.
   To get rid of all the files that belong to an application, I recommend AppZapper, from www.appzapper.com. It's only $12.95, and you can try it for free.
   AppZapper gets my nod for two things -- the fastest and most complete cleanup of the various files belonging to a program, and the most descriptive name. It even makes a very loud "zap" sound when it runs. (If you routinely clean up unwanted stuff off your Mac as the last thing you do before going to bed, AppZapper could wake up your neighbors. Be forewarned.)
   AppZapper won't remove anything without your permission, and it lets you uncheck files you want to keep. If you really mess up and remove the wrong files, you'll find them in the Trash. Just drag them back out.
   Uninstallers like Revo for Windows and AppZapper for the Mac are a big help when programs aren't behaving. But you can do your part, too. I recommend three simple steps:
    Always have a full backup at hand before you install any program, large or small. If you follow the advice I gave about backups in a recent column -- it's at www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec021509.html -- this won't be a problem. The idea is simple: Use an uninstaller to get rid of something you don't want, but keep your backups ready in case of disaster.
   Always make a note of where you got the program you're installing. In case of trouble, you might be able to find some all-important help at the software's Web site.
   Never install software when you're tired or when you're in a hurry to do something else. My tried and tested approach -- I've done this for a dozen years -- is to choose a time right after dinner for all my installations, no matter how minor they might seem. Being fortified by a good meal and a steaming mug of coffee is my insurance against inadvertent keystrokes.