Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Sometimes old software will not be removed from your machine. You can clean them up but there's always risk. We'll look at how to minimize that risk.

I wondered why space on my hard disk seemed to be disappearing so quickly and then discovered that programs such as Java and Adobe leave older/parallel versions of themselves behind when they update. I must have at least 500MB of Java versions at the time of writing. My question is can I delete these older versions and why doesn't Java do that automatically when it updates?

The second part is easy: why? Who knows? There are so many possibilities, and in general it'll vary from vendor to vendor. And of course knowing why probably won't help us answer the first part of the question.

But I do have a suggested approach to cleaning up...

The general answer is yes, you can delete old versions that you know have been superseded by newly installed upgrades and newer versions.

But, wait.

Before you run off and start deleting folders and files and what not, we need to take care. The answer isn't always yes. Sometimes, for various reasons, it's no.

So we need to be careful about what we do.

"The general answer is yes, you can delete old versions that you know have been superseded by newly installed upgrades and newer versions. But, wait."

Here's the approach that I would take:

  • Perform a full backup of your machine. And I do mean full. Make sure you're using a backup program or strategy that includes all files, registry settings and whatever else is on your machine. It's something you should have as a regular backup strategy anyway, but this is a case where we'd proactively take a snapshot before making major changes.

  • Try Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel first. (that's Programs and Features in Windows Vista's control panel). Look specifically for the old versions of what you're attempting to clean up. Quite often if the old version has been left on disk, then it may well not have been uninstalled at all, and may still appear here. If that's the case, this is by far the safest way to remove it.

  • Look for a program-specific menu item in your system's Start Menu. Specifically, look in the "All programs" menu, and perhaps even some of the submenus like "Accessories" or others. What we're looking for is once again an uninstall program that is specific to the version you're attempting to clean up. Much like Add/Remove programs, the old version may not have been uninstalled, and this, too, would be a safe way to remove it.

Now if neither of those options are available, things get a little scarier.

  • Locate the folder containing the old version. It sounds like you've already done this since you've identified that they're taking up space.

  • Rename the folder. Perhaps rename "application" to "application-readytodelete" so you can tell later why you renamed it. This effectively removes it from system knowledge without actually deleting the files.

  • Reboot. This is important because renaming the container of a file that's in use will often work without error - the file will still be in use. Sometimes the same is even true for renaming the file itself. It's not until you reboot and Windows attempts to locate the file again that an error might tell you it was in use originally.

  • Run a test period for "a while". Depending on how you use your machine, and how pressing the need to clean up, this could be hours or days. When in doubt, I'd just let things sit as they are for a few days and see how it goes.

  • Rename it back and reboot if renaming it in the first place caused errors, or any errors occurred during your test period. Based on those errors you can decide on how to proceed, but the obvious answer might be to leave it alone.

  • Delete the renamed folder if no errors result during the test period. Chances are that the old version is no longer in use, and hence can be safely deleted.

Note that I said "chances are" in that last item. There's still certainly a possibility that something you hadn't tried during your test phase actually did still require what you had deleted.

That's why we started with a backup. If any step along this path fails, you can always revert to, or restore portions from, that backup of your system that you started with.

Article C3316 - March 12, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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4 Comments
Professor ED
March 14, 2008 7:13 PM

Far better method of install would be to uninstall all copies including registry referances,delete referanced files,reboot. Then install latest version itself; This is not unlike a clean install and will have the best results with no problems...

Carl R. Goodwin
March 14, 2008 8:49 PM

Best thing to do is a total reformat every 6 months - cleans all the junk out. Just make sure you download all the newer versions of everything first, and then install those.

Rahul
March 19, 2008 10:17 AM

I would add one step in the process. After renaming, I would zip the folder and delete the unzipped source folder. System is sometimes smart enough to locate files within a renamed folder. It doesn't always fail. Zipping will keep the files and folders out of systems reach, yet full recovery is possible if needed.

ZANA LEE CORBIN
July 18, 2010 3:16 AM

THANK-YOU FOR YOUR ANSWER . IT WAS MUCH SIMPLER AND UNDERSTANDING THAN MOST OF THE SITES I VISIT. I HOPE TO SIGN UP FOR YOUR NEWSLETTER, BUT AS OF YET HAVE NOT BEEN SUCCESSFUL.. U CAN TELL I REALLY NEED IT LOL

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