Answer Line: Protect Against Software Installation Nightmares

Sometimes after I install a new application my PC becomes unstable and slow, and uninstalling the program doesn't fix the problem. Is there a safer way to install software?

Too many software installation utilities significantly alter important Windows settings, increasing the odds that something will break. And uninstall programs almost never fix this. These steps will safeguard your installations:

Choose carefully: Before installing any application, read reviews, talk to friends who know the product, and search usenet groups (groups.google.com) for comments. Then ask yourself if the program's benefits outweigh its potential dangers.

Don't install a new application or a major upgrade until it has been available for several months. This gives the vendor time to iron out most of the major bugs.

Don't assume that a program is safe just because it's from a big-name vendor. The most damaging installs I've seen were products from Microsoft and Symantec.

Prepare: Back up Windows settings beforehand. XP's System Restore makes a restore point before starting each installation, but to be extra safe, click Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore, Create a restore point, Next, and follow the prompts.

Most damage at installation is done to the Registry; a good third-party Registry backup program such as the Emergency Recovery Utility NT (aka ERUNT) will help protect you. The program is simple, efficient, and free.

Assess the damage: After the installation, check your system tray for new icons. The program has probably added something unnecessary-and potentially harmful-to the ever-growing list of apps that load automatically when Windows starts.

Don't install any other programs for a few days (a few weeks is even better) to give problems caused by the new program time to surface. Which brings us to the last resort of software installations.

If necessary, retreat: If the program simply doesn't pass muster, try to remove it with its own uninstall option (often found under its listing on your Start, All Programs menu). If the program has no uninstall option in its All Programs listing, select Start, Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs (Start, Settings, Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs in non-XP versions of Windows), choose the unwanted app from the resulting list, and click Remove to launch the program's uninstaller (see Figure 1). Contrary to myth, Add/Remove Programs and the Start menu shortcut are just two different points of entry to load the app's own uninstaller.

Figure 1

If Windows' Add or Remove Programs applet doesn't wipe out the unwanted software, launch System Restore and restore Windows to the point you created before installing the program. If that doesn't work, use the uninstall options in the ERUNT utility described above.

A caveat: Restoring the Registry from an old backup may cause you to lose a few settings, and it may disable any programs you installed after creating that backup. This is another reason to wait a decent interval between program installations.

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