How to Uninstall on a Mac

It's vital to empty your Trash to complete the uninstall process.
It's vital to empty your Trash to complete the uninstall process.
Screen capture by HowStuffWorks staff

Getting rid of programs on a Mac can be easy. Or difficult. Easy because in most cases you simply drag the program's icon to the trash and the software disappears. Difficult because Mac doesn't include the uninstall feature that Windows users take for granted. Some programs create files in the nooks and crannies of your Mac's hard drive, and finding them can take some detective work.

Why would you want to uninstall a program? For the same reason you occasionally tidy your office or clean your garage. Clutter breeds inefficiency. Applications take up space on your hard disk and can slow your computer. Also, a new version of a program may not work correctly unless you get rid of the old one [source: Ritchie].

Most of the time, uninstalling is this simple:

  1. Exit all programs.
  2. Open the Applications folder, which you'll find by clicking on the hard disk icon.
  3. Drag to the trash the icon of the program you want to uninstall.
  4. Empty the trash.

This method works fine with many applications, like iTunes or Quicken. The files for these applications are all stored in one location. In Mac talk, they are "bundled." To see if a program is bundled, click on its icon while holding down the Control key. If a box appears that says, "show package contents," it's a bundled program and the drag-to-the-trash method is probably the best way to uninstall it [source: Tech-FAQ].

For some other programs, removal is more complicated. When installed, these programs create files in several locations. The first step in removing them is to check the program's documentation to see if there is an uninstall utility. If your program has an uninstall utility associated with it, it may have been installed with the program or included on the disk that came with it. To remove Symantec software, for example, you can download the uninstall feature from the company [source: Norton]. Running an uninstall utility can make removing a program much easier.

You should be aware that removing an unbundled program by moving it into the trash can leave behind orphan files on your computer. Preference files are usually small and you might want to ignore them if you're just trying to free up disk space. Background files or support files can be larger, especially for multimedia programs like Garageband [source: MacRumors]. These files are likely to reside in Library folders in your hard drive or Home folder. They will usually be labeled with the name of the program, like Office or Acrobat, or the developer, such as Microsoft or Adobe. You can search for the relevant names using Spotlight, which is included with the Mac OS. Drag the files you find to the trash to get rid of them [source: The X Lab].

Check out the next page for tips to make your uninstall go even more smoothly.

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