How to uninstall an application when it does not appear in Add/Remove Programs

One of the questions I commonly receive from customers is how to uninstall a product when there is no entry created for that product in the Add/Remove Programs control panel. I get asked this question about a lot of different MSI-based setups and OS hotfixes, particularly from people who are trying to follow the uninstall instructions for beta versions of VS 2005 and the .NET Framework 2.0.

For MSI-based products, I typically recommend using the following steps to locate and remove a product that does not appear in Add/Remove Programs:

  1. Use these steps to download and run the MsiInv tool to create a list of applications that Windows Installer thinks are installed on the computer
  2. Open the MsiInv output file, locate the product that you are interested in removing and copy the Product Code value to your clipboard. The Product Code will be a GUID with curly braces surrounding it. Make sure to copy the curly braces in addition to the GUID value
  3. Go to the Start menu, choose Run and type cmd
  4. From the cmd prompt, run msiexec /x {product_code} using the Product Code value from the MsiInv output and try to uninstall it using the standard MSI uninstall command line
  5. If the uninstall succeeds, you can stop here
  6. If the uninstall did not succeed, download the smartmsizap tool (if you are interested, you can read about the behind-the-scenes design for smartmsizap here) and extract it to c:\ on your computer
  7. From the cmd prompt, run c:\smartmsizap.exe /p {product_code} using the Product Code value from the MsiInv output

This set of steps has resolved nearly all cases I've run into in the past where someone needed to remove a product but could not find an entry in Add/Remove Programs to launch the uninstall process from. If you try these steps and run into problems or have questions, please contact me and I will try to help.

For OS hotfixes, you need to make sure the Show updates checkbox is checked in the top middle of the Add/Remove Programs control panel. If that is checked and the hotfix you want to remove still does not appear in Add/Remove Programs, the hotfix may have been installed on your system with a command line that suppresses the ability to uninstall.

<update date="1/9/2006"> Added more specific information about extracting and running smartmsizap.exe from c:\ because otherwise Windows may not know where to find the exe when running the command from a cmd prompt </update>

<update date="4/1/2009"> Fixed broken link to smartmsizap tool. </update>