I’ve been using Marteau’s Total Uninstall for quite some time now, and generally it works very well. It keeps the system clean of the junk programs generally leave behind when they’re uninstalled. However, couple of days ago Total Uninstall totally uninstalled my system. I needed to print a listing of the contents of a folder, and I remembered a program I had tried at some point, ExpPrint. I downloaded and installed the latest version of ExpPrint, 188.8.131.52, and printed the directory. Few hours later it occurred to me that the excellent file manager that has long been part of my core utilities, Directory Opus, might have the directory printing functionality built in — something which I confirmed quickly. It also turned out that that the directory printing features of Directory Opus worked better and were more configurable than those of ExpPrint… so I decided to uninstall ExpPrint. I fired up Total Uninstall, selected ExpPrint, and started application uninstall which quickly completed. I then clicked on the “Uninstall” button of Total Uninstall to remove the scraps left behind by the software.
Only this time I would be treated to a total uninstall of my Windows XP as I was about to find out. Total Uninstall first displayed few items that “were added after the program [to be uninstalled] was installed”. They were generic context-menu items, so I made sure they were unselected, and proceeded. Program worked for some 20 seconds and then produced a lengthy list of all the registry values it had deemed part of the ExpPrint, and thus removed. Only the list contained good part of my XP’s registry values including all context-menu items, all file associations, etc. Needless to say, after that nothing worked, including the system restore.
Nor did it help to attempt to restore system state (there would have been a very recent system state available) from the recovery console as outlined in a TechTarget article. Windows would just not start. Realizing that even if I were able to get it back up and running, the configuration would likely never work very well, I resigned to a full reinstall with a sigh. Since the filesystem was intact and since I keep good backups, I lost no data, just time.
Lesson learned: it’s worth keeping a restorable image backup of the system/program files partition in addition to data backups.
Update 17 September 2008: I’m still using Total Unintall, or at least “have been using it”. Yesterday I was installing some Photoshop plugins, and while doing so accidentally installed a plugin into inDesign’s plugin folder. So I fired up Total Uninstall to remove the software. The result: the entire plugins folder of inDesign was wiped out. Fortunately only files were touched, and fortunately Total Uninstall removed them to Recycle Bin, so restoring them was fairly easy without a lengthy repair/reinstall of inDesign. But as it seems Total Uninstall doesn’t have a feature to preview what is about to be uninstalled, I’m now questioning how good of an idea its continued use is. I’ve found the program quite effective, but errors like this make it hazardous to use. I’m going to suggest a preview as a new feature, but meanwhile—until/if such feature is added; see my feature request on Martau.com—I may opt to use some other uninstaller that does provide the preview as well as the option to choose whether or not to remove the “left over” items the uninstaller has found, or if no software provides such feature I may lay off 3rd party uninstallers for now—it’s better to have clutter in the system than to have to have to reinstall everything. I took a quick peek at Total Install’s competition (including Your Uninstaller!, Advanced Uninstaller PRO, free Revo Uninstaller, and the popular, also free CCleaner), and I wasn’t impressed. Let’s hope Martau adds the uninstall preview; it’s otherwise the best tool for the job!
Update 21 September 2008: My over-zealous spam-filter had caught Martau’s response to the initial problem in August. It has been addressed in the current release and “total uninstall” should no longer happen! Also, it turns out that the detected changes display (the “Changes” tab) in Total Uninstall displays all the changes that the program has detected for each installed program, and that will be reverted or removed during the uninstall. Thus, by reviewing the detected changes in prior to starting the uninstallation process any unpleasant surprises can be avoided. This is pretty much what I was looking for with the “uninstall preview” feature (as outlined in 17 September 2008 update above). Good job, Martau! Now I can continue to recommend Total Uninstall as the best uninstall tool available for Windows!