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

Don't worry about it. Install the software that you're going to use and use your computer the way you want to use it!

I try to limit the number of programs I install on my system. It's a 64-bit Windows 7 system with SP 1 and 12 GB of RAM. I do this because I feel intuitively that the more programs I install, the more quickly Windows reaches that corrupted state that we all know too well, and has to be reinstalled from scratch. I really could make good use of quite a number of programs I don't have installed but I worry about hastening corruption. I do assume that I can load as many portable applications as I like without worry. Am I on the right track? Or is my thinking just incorrect?

Installing lots of software is usually not a terribly destabilizing thing. Sure, there can be bad software out there. It's usually not the amount of software but the specific software that ends up causing problems after you install it. Obviously, the best approach to saving yourself from those kinds of scenarios is a good backup system.

Software rot

What you're talking about is called "software rot." The real culprit is not really so much installing software but installing and uninstalling repeatedly for different pieces of software.

When you try trial software, you'll probably do this (and you should). It's important when you want to try things out, see if a particular product works, evaluate it for your needs, decide if you're going to use it, and if not, remove it from your system.

If you do that a lot, that is actually a bigger cause of system destabilization than simply installing software that you regularly use.

You need to feel comfortable using your machine. I have a bucket load of software installed on my machine and it's actually quite stable and it has been for some time. So go ahead and install and use software - that's what your computer is for. Use it, but back it up regularly. Things can always go wrong, but what is wrong may not necessarily be related to installing lots of software.

Portable apps

One thing that has me curious is that you mention the use of portable apps. True, portable apps don't have a set up process. You simply load them onto your machine and use them. The problem is that portable apps will often install things in the system the first time you run them.

The only real definition of portable is that you don't need to run a set up program and you can simply copy the program to wherever you want it and run it and have it work. There's no requirement that the software needs to do anything. The software could be installing a lot of things the first time that it's run. You may find that your portable app is writing things to a registry setting, or several registry settings, or copying some files if it notices that those files aren't there.

Leo's recommendation

Portable apps are great, but they don't necessarily offer a significant increase of system stability by avoiding the set up process.

Skip the apps. Install the software that you're going to use. Use your computer. If you can, avoid uninstalling a lot of stuff or avoid churning through a lot of pieces of software. Install what you need, use it, and back up your computer regularly to make sure that when something goes wrong, you've got a quick and easy way to restore your computer to a working or a more stable situation.

Article C6406 - April 20, 2013 « »

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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.

Not what you needed?

Mark J
April 21, 2013 2:43 AM

I've noticed the software rot problem to be significantly improved in Windows 7 (and possibly Vista) and beyond, than with previous versions of Windows. It seems to have a self cleaning oven. This may be anecdotal and not really the case. Does anybody else out there have similar experience?

That's been my experience as well. I don't think it self-cleans, but is simply more tolerant of dirt.

April 22, 2013 10:58 AM is a great site for 'portable apps' (god, I hate the word 'apps', it just sounds weird) and it'll tell you if it writes to anywhere besides the application folder.

I like to use RegShot, which takes a snapshot of the registry and then compare it with another. I just like to know what's going on with my computer.

April 23, 2013 10:50 AM

I fully concur that Windows 7 reduces, if not eliminates, software rot. It is by far the most stable operating system I have ever used, and I go back a few years when I say that - all the way to 1965.
My Windows 7 has remained very stable ever since I stopped using so called registry cleaner programs. (At one time I had to reinstall Windows due to the mayhem caused by a registry cleaner!) I recommend you don't use them and you will be a happy user it you don't.

April 23, 2013 11:24 AM

If you install a lot of programs under Windows 7, even if you deinstall them later, your windows\winsxs directory will grow uncontrollably. AFAIK there is no solution other than a clean reinstall (or restore of an early backup).

Natalie Grenfell
April 23, 2013 4:49 PM

Regarding Leo's suggestion to forget Apps, I would like to know if add-ons are the same as apps. I have three add-ons to my Firefox browser, and I feel they are a big help. I also have used a Kindle app via my Firefox, and this enables me to read Kindle books for free without even putting an actual Kindle program onto my computer desktop. Would these still be enough of a safety problem to get rid of them? I'll do whatever you say, Leo.

April 23, 2013 5:30 PM

I was wondering what exactly it is about the installing then removing of programs that causes the problems...and if you use a thorough uninstaller such as Revo, would that make any difference?

Mark J
April 24, 2013 12:10 AM

The Apps Leo is talking about are Portable Apps.He's not saying anything against them. They are perfectly fine to use. What he's saying is that it's just as safe to use the installed version as the portable version of these programs. "Portable apps are great, but they don't necessarily offer a significant increase of system stability by avoiding the set up process." He's simply saying that you can skip the apps and be just as safe.

Mark J
April 24, 2013 12:14 AM

The problem is that many freeware and some shareware programs don't necessarily uninstall completely. A well designed program should uninstall with no harmful traces.

May 11, 2013 10:28 AM

I slightly disagree with Leo.

Installing software can sometimes also cause problems. Not rot, but it seems that so many programs these days like to put themselves into StartUp or the Run registry key so that they run when you boot up your computer.

They say they are doing you a favour by pre-loading some components of the software so that it runs faster when you go to use the software. But the reality is, sometimes you are just turning on your computer to check your email and don't need five different programs to take the time to load up into memory or check for program updates (e.g. Flash) and slow down your computer.

I recently started from scratch on my Windows XP computer and I took the time to evaluate how I used that computer (I also have a laptop that I use regularly) and look at what software I was putting back on the machine. If another piece of software duplicated a task, I only installed one. I only use Excel on my laptop, so I didn't bother to install Excel on the XP computer, for example.

What I ended up with was a cleaner machine that is quicker to boot up so I can do what I really turned the computer on for, not what some software vendor thinks I might want to do.

Actually you raise a very good point with respect to start-up pollution.

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