Forget the Leopard Bells and Whistles, Just Give Me an Uninstaller

by Chris Howard Feb 28, 2007

Latterly, I’ve been looking at alternatives to iPhoto, and there are a large number. But since none have satisfied, I won’t name names—except for Apple’s Aperture. If I write too much about my needs and why no apps have fulfilled them, I’ll be too far off track. Maybe I’ll save that for another article when I do find one that meets my needs. On that note, any developers who think they might have something, shoot me an email at chrish at the Apple Matters domain.

Now, back to the problem at hand. In a month or so, Apple will release Leopard, the whizz-bang-Vista-thumping new operating system. We’ll all be ooo-ing and ahhh-ing and saying it’s the best thing to hit planet Earth since the sun’s first rays. “Vista who?” we’ll say. We’ll scoff arrogantly at our poor cousins in the Windows world with their oh-so-2005 Vista OS.

However, unless it’s Steve’s big secret, there is one area where Vista will make OS X look oh-so-1994. And that’s uninstalling applications.

We Mac users like to brag about the simplicity of installing applications: simply drag and drop to the Applications folder. (Not that this is worth bragging about since most Apple applications use an installer…)

But when it comes to uninstalling, it’s not just a simple case of drag and drop to the trash. Well, it is, say some of the more zealous Mac users when talking to their poor cousins in the Windows world.

Now, the last time I used Windows’ uninstaller I can’t say it was a pretty experience, as often it doesn’t have a clue which files you should and shouldn’t remove, but at least it tries.

On OS X, where things are much simpler, with no DLLs, no registry, and few necessary third-party device drivers, uninstalling with an uninstaller should be a doddle.

And if you’ve ever run AppZapper or CleanUp, you’ll know that’s almost true. Often they identify only three files that need to be removed: the application, its preference file, and a folder in the Application Support folder. Some applications, though, burrow a bit deeper and have bits missed by these uninstallers.

Aperture, I discovered, is one of these. (It’s a shame that whoever develops Aperture doesn’t talk to Apple… wink) It only seems to go a smidge deeper, but it’s enough to rankle me again about the absence of an uninstaller in OS X as I had to manually hunt for other files to delete. This also makes me a little nervous about what else might get left behind.

The accompanying image for this article may seem a bit odd, but it is what appears in my screensaver preferences after deleting Aperture. And just to be sure, I even rebooted my Mac. It didn’t take much hunting around until I found the Aperture library that still existed and deleted it. As I said, it’s annoying that the user has to do that.

I had tried to make the process one-step by using AppZapper, which identified several files to remove; however, the Aperture library was not one of them.

It’s possible, even probable, that the screensaver preference has it built-in to look for the Aperture library. Okay then, but let’s not put the blame on AppZapper for not finding the Aperture library. Application uninstalling should be a part of an operating system.

In Googling for “How do I uninstall Aperture,” I uncovered another uninstaller application called Yank, which uses specific uninstallers for each application. It is an interesting approach, and although not getting favorable reviews on MacUpdate, it is one to watch; unlike an AppZapper which is reliant on a search of your hard disk, Yank should be much more accurate.

But, of course, the question still remains: Why?! Why doesn’t Apple provide this feature itself? Why should Joe Average User be expected to root around his/her system looking for preference files, caches, and other miscellaneous files just to remove an application?

It’s bad practice to encourage users to delete files they know nothing about. Next they’ll be hunting around the system folders to see where they can save space. And don’t think they can’t do any harm because they’re not an administrator. If it’s their Mac, they’ll be its administrator. And just to prove a point, in a fit of masochism—and absolute faith in SuperDuper—I did exactly that and deleted my system keychain from the main Library folder. All it took was the administrator password. (I then restored it from the trash.) There are probably much worse files to delete than that, but it does show how easy it is. So, Apple, let’s not encourage users to delete files they know nothing about.

This is one time when I don’t think it’s the responsibility of third-party developers to come up with a solution. Uninstalling applications should be a function of the operating system. So come on Apple, you conceded on the two-button mouse, Intel processors, and Windows on Macs, now it’s time to bring OS X all the way into the 21st century and provide an application uninstaller. (And one that gets all files and shows Windows how easy it should be.)



  • Chris,

    “Granted, as you say, that uninstall is Add/Remove, but your argument almost single-handedly proves how and why OS should have uninstall.”

    No, that is not what I said, I stated: “One thing you have to remember here is that ‘no’ incarnation of Windows actually has an uninstaller.”

    Windows uninstall, a part of add/remove programs, uses the Registry to locate the necessary information needed to uninstall an App. If you look at the registry folder: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall, there are a bunch of GUID entries that appear to be .net Apps and Microsoft Apps. After those GUID entries, are most of the applications that are visible in the Add/Remove Programs program. Selecting an entry in this folder like Thunderbird, for instance, shows a list of registry entries including an entry called UninstallString which contains: C:\Program Files\Mozilla Thunderbird\uninstall\uninstall.exe /ua “ (en-US)”. No LOG file but the uninstall program that Mozilla supplied when it was installed.

    I’m all for making the users experience a clean and easy one. But let’s not give ease of use credit to a company that seems to do everything in it’s power to make that experience as hard and convoluted as possible.

    VesperDEM had this to say on Mar 02, 2007 Posts: 4
  • I will give ease of use credit to Microsoft. And not just for providing a single interface for uninstalling applications. There are other things I consider Windows does better.

    However, as I’ve repeatedly said, I believe Windows’ uninstall process could work better. But it does work most of the time. At least it’s there though and trying.

    OS X and Apple don’t have a mortgage on user-friendliness, and, in fact, sometimes are far from it.

    The uninstall process is one such example. As I keep saying, and others have agreed - even those who don’t want an uninstaller such as Doug - manually hunting for files to uninstall is a pain in the butt and certainly not user-friendly.

    I’m way out of practice with Windows, but if you search the Program Files directory for .log files, you’ll find most applications keep an install log, and some even call it an uninstall log.

    Many apps in Windows, have their own uninstaller which can be run independently of Add/Remove, but it is used by Add/Remove when you go that way.

    There’s no reason OS X apps couldn’t use install logs. (looking in the Console, some already do.)

    There is only one other problem, and my Aperture experience highlights it. And that’s files and folders created after the application is first run.

    CleanApp has a monitor that watches for files created by applications and then includes them in its uninstall list. It’s problem though is it includes all files. So if you’d installed say ImageWell, when you went to uninstall it, CleanApp would list every image you’d created with ImageWell (not that you’d ever want to install such a great app!) And then you have to manually unselect them all.

    I also found it made some totally irrelevant and unconnected suggestions. Such as when uninstalling an imaging app, it suggested entries in my address book.(And no I hadn’t used it to insert images in those entries)

    For now, I’ll keep using AppZapper, and manually hunting when I encounter a quirk like the Aperture one.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 02, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • All this said, I agree that a centralized location for uninstalling Apps/drivers/widgets/preferences/etc… would be a useful thing for the Mac.

    I guess my question would be where would this centralized location be? It doesn’t really belong in System Preferences. I suspect the Finder would be the place, but I already have CleanApp in the toolbar for just such a purpose. smile

    I used to use AppZapper until I was having tons of problems removing Apps from my Applications folder do to the permissions. CleanApp fixed that problem, then AppZapper put out an update that fixed the problem. So I have both, but I prefer CleanApp right now.

    VesperDEM had this to say on Mar 07, 2007 Posts: 4
  • I’ve just come across another uninstaller and it’s free! It works fine for me and just like AppZapper.

    It’s uApp and is available at:

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • I’m trying to resist responding to the usual…well, you know…so I’ll just say this.

    The uninstaller in Windows is better for the simple reason that IT HAS ONE.  It’s far from perfect, but it works for the most part.

    In fact, this is a big failing of OS X, not only because it lacks any uninstaller, but it lacks any single way to uninstall apps at all.  Some you can drag to the trash, others have uninstallers.  Some are just going to live on your system for-freaking-ever until you re-install OS X.

    Seriously, you’re going to complain about a few .dll’s when some OS X apps leave libraries and prefs and keys god-knows-where taking up god-knows how much space?

    The idea that you need a third-party app is ridiculous because a) it should be built-in (it would be like requiring a third-part app for volume control or installing apps or some other basic system function) and b) it shows it can be done.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • There is NO uninstaller included with Windows.  Period.  It has been explained several times here but none of you seem to be able to understand.  Maybe it’s today’s short attention spans…

    bob-bob had this to say on Aug 27, 2007 Posts: 12
  • Bob-bob, Add/Remove Programs is a mechanism to, well, add or remove programs.

    It in itself is not an uninstaller, merely the front-end to the uninstaller nearly every Windows application comes with.

    So, yes, technically you are right. And technically, the sky is not blue.

    Apple provides no such streamlined access to uninstalling applications. For a company that prides itself on ease-of-use, that is an oversight.

    As has been explained here, there are various ways to uninstall applications on OS X, and some of those ways leave behind files that should be removed. For this reason, drag & drop to the Trash is not “ease-of-use” as it leaves behind heaps of other files that the user should go searching for to trash.

    All we are asking is for a single interface to uninstalling applications in OS X but provided by Apple, not third parties, as we consider this is a standard part of any half decent OS.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 27, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Bob-bob says, somewhat disingenuously:

    <blockquote>There is NO uninstaller included with Windows.  Period.  It has been explained several times here but none of you seem to be able to understand.  Maybe it’s today’s short attention spans…</blckquote>

    Technically, that is true, but the reason for that is that Microsoft encourages people to build installers as MSI packages (which can either be saved directly as an .MSI file which can be double-clicked and opened in “Windows Installer”, or packaged in executable [.EXE] files). MSI files are basically a package of compressed files, and a set of instructions telling Windows where each file goes and what changes to the registry are to be made. Because of this, an uninstall routine is simply running these instructions backwards—removing the new and changed registry entries and the new files from the system. This uninstall routine is standard with every MSI installer file, and is a switch in the Windows Installer program that actually processes these files (MSIExec.exe) —even for the ones that themselves are packaged as .EXE files. In fact, this even allows for a complete rollback of the system to the state before installation starts in the event of an error during the install process, or if the user click cancel during the install process.

    So, even though there is no separate “uninstaller” for Windows, there is a standard way provided from programs to be uninstalled. Which quite frankly would be nice on OS X. Especially for those huge apps like Adobe Creative Suite which doesn’t have a drag-drop install.

    SterlingNorth had this to say on Aug 27, 2007 Posts: 121
  • Windows Installer has been present in Windows since 2000 (but could be installed in Windows 98 and ME), and it has capabilities built in for handling the uninstallation of programs. It replaced “SetupAPI” which merely logged changes, and was so unworthwhile that InstallShield, WISE and a number of companies made their own installers. Today, InstallShield and WISE installers are simply front-ends to Windows Installer itself. That’s why almost every installer in Windows starts with a dialog box titled “Windows Installer” that says “Please wait while Windows configures [your program].”

    SterlingNorth had this to say on Aug 27, 2007 Posts: 121
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