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Ask Max: Uninstalling software on the Mac

Asked on 04/21/2008:

How do you uninstall applications, software programs on a Mac? It can't be as simple as drag and drop from the applications folder to the trash can...???


Uninstalling a program on a Mac can be as simple as dragging an application to the trash, but it's not always the case. One of the great advancements of OS X was in how it compacted the Applications into one location. This is done by a little user interface trickery. An application, in the Applications folder, is really a folder not a file. If you right click on an application, you can select "Show Package Contents." This will reveal a secret folder listing of the files that make up the application. When you double click on the application's icon, it sends a shortcut call the the executable file inside the folder that then starts the application running in the OS. So when you drag an application to the Trash, you are actually dragging a folder of files to the trash.

Now most every application will also have a preference file each user that starts the program. This is not a part of the application but it is created by the application to track the individual changes you make to the application. These are not removed when you delete an program from your Mac. They are small harmless text files, and do not need to removed.

Just because an application contains most of its internal resources in the hidden folder, does not mean that that is all that gets installed. Some applications need to install drivers or helper programs. These programs are much harder to install and a good software engineer will include an uninstaller script to run. This is often part of the disk image or included on the Install disc. If an uninstaller is not included, then you can often find all the pieces by searching in the Finder for the program's name and the company name that released it. Then you can drag those found files to the trash, but be carful and wait a week before you empty the Trash.

A good way to figure out what you need to do when removing a program is remember how you installed it. If you just dragged a file from a disc to the Applications folder to install it, then dragging that same application to the Trash will delete. If you used an Installer, you will want to look for additional installed pieces of that application.

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