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I'm a recent switcher from Windows. Uninstalling programs correctly is a big deal on that platform because of the crap that gets left everywhere if you don't.

On the Mac I've noticed the majority of programs can be dragged into the Applications folder to install and then trashed if no longer needed. However some also have an uninstall program (and I never remember which ones).

This lack of consistency and the presence of free (donationware) software such as AppCleaner to manage it suggests that uninstalling programs is also an issue with Mac OS X.

Is this correct and if so, what is the best way to manage it?

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Problems are inevitable, worrying about them is optional. –  Richard Hoskins Sep 2 '09 at 14:35
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up vote 5 down vote accepted

For most Mac software, using AppCleaner and or AppZapper is sufficient - it removes the software, as well as the preferences, your customization, etc. Dragging the software to the trash bin is also good enough - as the left-behind preferences will not affect anything but disk space. In fact, you might want to keep those preferences in case you decide to re-use the software in the future.

The tricky software to watch out for are usually those huge, complicated programs, which embed kext extensions, or pepper the system with files all over. For example, VMWare, Parallels, Adobe CS3, etc. For these category of software, try to use the official uninstaller as much as possible.

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The issue is that dragging your applications to the trash will not clear up all the space they've used, such as files written to your /Library/. Applications like AppCleaner and AppZapper attempt to correct this by also clearing up other locations the application has used.

The correct (i.e. Apple) way is just to drag it to the trash and ignore the lost space. If you'd like the peace of mind that you're getting as much space back as you can, an app like AppCleaner is the way to go.

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It's not exactly very complicated to uninstall an app in Mac OS X. When you drag it to the Trash it really is gone, so it's uninstalled. The problem is that most apps also have preferences and other auxiliary files; they are nt deleted when you remove the app.

However, there are quite a few apps that remove the files left over. One such app is AppTrap. It does it's job just as well and is free. When you move an app to the Trash, it asks you if you also want to move all it's preferences and customizations as well. Simple and effective :). Here's what it says on the Apptrap site:

The feature Apple forgot

OK, here's a fairly simple idea: what if applications could be uninstalled as easily as they are installed, in other words, by drag-and-drop.

The exact opposite would have to be... dragging the application to the trash. Ah, there you go! This is exactly what AppTrap does. Whenever you drag an application to the trash, a dialog window will pop up, asking if you want to delete the associated system files too. Simple as that.

So you see, using something like Apptrap really does make it seem easy. It's just a few extra files deleted along with the app.

Just as a quick note: AppTrap is no longer developed; however, it works perfectly in Leopard and the project has forked with the original authors blessing.

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Typically, a separate uninstaller app will be provided with the program if there are any special uninstallation steps necessary. Otherwise, it's a pretty safe bet that dragging the app to the trash will be all you need to do. You might be left with some settings and cache files lying around, but that's about it -- that's where AppZapper and the like can come in handy.

I do agree, though, that a standard uninstallation mechanism would be a good addition to OS X.

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+1 for a standard uninstallation mechanism –  Alex Angas Sep 13 '09 at 9:32
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