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

Programs can be installed in many ways and many places. There's no single authoritative list of what's installed, but we can get close.

How do I get a list of all installed programs and applications on my machine? Information is all scattered and confusing.

If you're looking for a complete list, the answer is simple: you don't. "Scattered and confusing" doesn't even begin to cover it.

However if you want to know most of what's installed on your machine, you can get pretty close.

The problem is that there is no standard way to install an application on a Windows machine. There's supposed to be, but the reality is that doing it right is extra, often complex work. Many simply don't bother, and do things their own way.

As a result, there's no central repository of information about what's on your machine.

Fortunately, there are a few standard and semi-standard places we can look.

Add/Remove Programs

Fire up Windows Control Panel, and click on Add or Remove Programs. You should get something very similar to this:

Add or Remove Programs Dialog

Scroll down that list, and you'll get a fairly comprehensive list of the applications that have been installed on your machine.

For the record, in a perfect world, that list would be enough. But this is far from a perfect world.

All Programs

Click your Start menu, and then click on All Programs. On one of my machines you'd see a massive list:

All Programs Menu

Applications which don't follow the rules to install properly into Add/Remove Programs, above, will often still install themselves into your Start menu. (Frequently that's where they put their own custom un-install link, if they provide one.)

This serves as an additional list of applications installed on your machine. You may also need to traverse into some of the sub-menus, most notably "Accessories", to get the entire list.

"In short: an installed program doesn't need to follow any rules."

C:\Program Files

Another good location to examine is the folder on your Windows Drive where most programs are installed. Typically that's C:\Program Files. Fire up Windows Explorer and navigate there and you should see something like this:

c:\program files

Once again here you'll see a long list, though this time often by vendor name rather than program name. You may need to look inside many of the sub-folders to see what they contain to get a clear understanding of what applications each folder might represent.

The "gotcha" with this particular approach is uninstall. Many programs, when they uninstall themselves, will leave their subfolders in "c:\program files". You may find subfolders for software that you uninstalled long ago.

The Registry

I need to mention the registry for completeness, but in all honesty, I'd avoid it for this particular problem. Yes, many, if not most, installed programs do place information into the registry. But the better behaved ones will have been found by the steps above, and the others - well, there's no telling where in the registry they may have placed their information.

The PATH

Fire up a Windows Command Prompt, and type in "SET" followed by Return. You'll see a list of many variables, one of which is "PATH":

Path=C:\WINDOWS\system32;C:\WINDOWS;C:\WINDOWS\System32\Wbem

Yours may be quite different, as some installations like to add things to the PATH. The PATH represents the folders in which Windows may look for programs. So, each directory listed in the PATH is a place where you may find installed programs in the form of ".EXE" files.

The problem here is that Windows itself is in the PATH. That means that you will find many .EXE files that are not installed programs at all; they're Windows itself.

Other Places

In reality, a program could be installed anywhere on your hard disk, could place information anywhere in the registry, or not, could store configuration files in your user directory, the Windows directory, or anywhere else. In short: an installed program doesn't need to follow any rules.

That's why things like virus scanners don't try to use rules - they simply scan the entire hard disk looking for problems.

But depending on how exhaustive you want to get, the first two or three ideas here should get you 99% of what you're looking for.

Article C2955 - March 6, 2007 « »

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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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10 Comments
Chris Spencer
March 6, 2007 11:30 PM

It's reasons like this I use Linux, virtually everything is installed using the package manager. It's easy to install/uninstall/see what is already installed. Updating is particularly good, just click on go and it will update everything on it's own, now that's convenience.

James Le
March 7, 2007 10:44 AM

You can try Belarc Advisor. It's free for personal user. It gets a list of installed software, product key, patches, hardware... You could say "A Complete System Profile". For more info goto http://www.belarc.com/free_download.html

Bob Rocheleau
March 9, 2007 11:00 PM

Hi Leo!
Want to know what's installed on your machine...
very simple, easy and Free...install the "Belarc
Advisor." If it's good enough for our military,
'it's good enough for me.
Bob

John Benson
March 10, 2007 7:28 AM

How do I find out what's installed on my machine?

I recommend Belarc Advisor. (www.belarc.com)

It gives me an amazing detailed profile of my computer with hundreds of suggestions - very strong on security issues.

"The license associated with the Belarc Advisor product allows for free personal use only. Use on multiple computers in a corporate, educational, military or government installation is prohibited. See the license agreement for details. The information on this page was created locally on your computer by the Belarc Advisor. Your computer profile was not sent to a web server."

L Blackwolf
March 10, 2007 8:26 AM

How do I find out what's installed on my machine?

I also recommend Belarc Advisor.
and SIW (System Information for Windows) http://www.snapfiles.com/get/siw.html

It performs computer configuration analysis and diagnostics. It gives detailed information about your computer properties and settings, detailed specs for:
Software: Operating System, Installed Software and Hotfixes, Processes, Services, Users, Open Files, System Uptime, Installed Codecs, Licenses.
Hardware: Motherboard, Sensors, BIOS, CPU, chipset, PCI/AGP, USB and ISA/PnP Devices, Memory, Video Card, Monitor, Disk Drives, CD/DVD Devices, SCSI Devices, S.M.A.R.T., Ports, Printers.
Network: Network Cards, Network Shares, currently active Network Connections, Open Ports.
Tools: Password Recovery, Reveal passwords hidden behind asterisks, Product Keys and Serial Numbers (CD Key), MAC Address Changer, Shutdown / Restart.
Real-time monitors: CPU, Memory, Page File usage and Network Traffic.
SIW can create a report file (CSV, HTML, TXT or XML), and is able to run in batch mode (for PC Auditing and Inventory).
SIW is a standalone utility that does not require installation - one less installed program on your PC as well the fact that you can run the program directly from a USB flash drive (Portable Freeware).

Carl G.
March 10, 2007 9:10 PM

A really EXCELLENT free program/service that gives a profile about your entire system (not just the programs installed) is "Belarc Advisor", and can be found at "belarc.com". It is very useful. :)

Dave (AKA Graybeard)
April 2, 2007 7:03 PM

Leo,
I have a freeware program called "System Information for Windows (SIW) that seems to do a good job of indication of "what's installed on my machine?". The URl is http://www.gtopala.com/. The program also gives more than you ever wanted to know about your computer. :)

BTW, Thanks for all the good info.
Dave

jack
April 6, 2007 2:13 PM

http://belarc.com/free_download.html

exc program

rhonda Ljoy
July 6, 2010 10:41 AM

Hi Leo...I believe your comments and posts are most helpful. I did try to subscribe to the RSS Feed, but the internet page could not be displayed. Any help with that?..thanks, rhonda

Tester
August 24, 2010 2:33 AM

1. Open command prompt with admin rights. That is, type in cmd either in Start menu search box or in Run dialog box and hit Ctrl + Shift +Enter to open the command prompt with admin rights.Alternatively you can also go to All Programs > Accessories and right-click on Command Prompt and select Run as administrator.

2. Click continue button if you get User Account Control (UAC) Prompt.

3. Here in the Command Prompt, type WMIC and hit enter. Once you type hit enter to see below message.

4. Next, you need to type the following command:

/output:C:\InstallList.txt product get name,version

Where C is the drive letter where Windows will store the installed applications list. You can also change the name of the output file and drive letter if you want to modify the output location. Also note that this trick should work in Windows 2000 & XP operating systems without problems.

However Belarc Advisor is also good as it creates a detailed list installed apps, missing Microsoft hotfixes, anti-virus status and displays the results in your Web browser.

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