How to Clean Up Messy AOL 9.0SE Removal (and kill aolsoftware.exe, AOLHelper.dll and AOLDeskbar.dll)

Update, 12-23-10: I have no idea why this post keeps getting stuck in my rough draft folder on WP.com but it does – this is at least the third time I’ve republished it this year after it got stuck in there. Sorry for any inconvenience…

I know, I know, I don’t do this anymore. But last week someone named Mike came and blew the dust off my blog, looking for answers on how to remove his copy of AOL. While my replies seemed to satisfy him, one of them was wrong.

He asked if putting his computer into Safe Mode would help him uninstall AOL. I implied it made little difference, but in fact, it makes a lot of a difference. It shuts down that pesky AOL Connectivity Service to make uninstalling AOL a breeze. Unless, of course, you’re removing AOL 9.0SE.

Using Safe Mode (at least, on Windows XP Pro with Service Pack 3, which is the only operating system I’ve tested AOL on recently) will not help you completely remove this particular version of AOL. Like me, you may run into the problem of seeing that two or three processes named aolsoftware.exe and one process named AOLSPScheduler are still running after you thought you removed this AOL program completely.

Let me show you what I mean (I’ve been updating my blogs via laptop lately, so these might not be the clearest shots, since I’m not in the resolution I’m used to):

Two aolsoftware.exe processes running after AOL 9.0SE removal

(click to expand all shots)

Even once I figured out how to make those processes stop running, using my favorite free Windows search tool, Everything, I was unable to delete two files – technically, they’re called Dynamic Link Library files – one is AOLDeskbar.dll and the other is AOLHelper.dll. I got “access denied” messages upon trying to delete each one of them.

The first problem can be resolved by looking through Add and Remove Programs for any AOL programs still installed and removing each one at a time (this might require restarting your computer to finish each removal process, depending on which AOL programs are still installed).

After I removed the AOL 9.0SE program in Safe Mode, then restarted my computer in normal mode, this is what my Add and Remove Control Panel still showed as being installed by AOL:

AOL programs leftover after AOL 9.0SE removal

In order, the AOL programs still installed after removing AOL 9.0SE are AOL Coach, AOL Deskbar (a truly funky looking, useless thing that sits by your system tray), AOL Spyware Protection, AOL Toolbar, and AOL You’ve Got Pictures Screensaver. AOL (Choose Which Programs to Remove) was also still there (click screen shot to see), and it still showed one program – AOL Internet Access Controls – ready to be removed.

Removing these programs will not shut down the aolsoftware.exe processes still running after you remove AOL 9.0SE. But you should try to remove them anyway, since doing so will at least remove the AOLSPScheduler process, which otherwise will run at every startup.

CCleaner and HijackThis to the Rescue

You might not be able to remove two or three leftover programs – AOL Spyware Protection, AOL Deskbar and AOL Toolbar – because of INSTALL.LOG errors. The only way to get rid of them is to download CCleaner, then, once it’s up and running, click on the Tools button, click on the AOL program entry you want to delete from XP’s Add and Remove Programs list, then click the button to the right that says Delete Entry.

Using CCleaner to remove corrupt AOL entries in Add & Remove Programs

This does not actually remove these programs from your computer, but there are no separate uninstallers for any of them that I can find, so it takes a hack job to get this done.

To stop the leftover aolsoftware.exe processes, download HijackThis and unzip the program to the specified folder (usually C:Program Files).

Run HJT by clicking Start, Run, and typing, without quotes, hijackthis.exe, then OK. Click the Do a System Scan Only button. Once the scan is done, place a check next to every AOL entry (if an entry says “AOL” or “America Online” in its name, and you’re trying to remove every last trace of AOL from your computer, it has got to go – so be merciless).

Using HijackThis to remove AOL

When you’re done making your selections, click the Fix Checked button on the bottom left. Next, restart your computer (this can be a reboot or cold boot, it doesn’t matter). The leftover aolsoftware.exe processes will be gone.

Along with jv16 PowerTools…

To get rid of the “access denied” messages you’ll see when you try to delete the AOLDeskbar.dll and AOLHelper.dll files, you can try one of two things: you can edit the Windows Registry manually (this was how I did it after I removed AOL 9.0SE from my computer last week), which will take over an hour, since I’m not sure exactly which AOL registry entries must be removed to shut down access protection, or you can use a program like jv16PowerTools to do the registry editing for you.

It’s only fair to mention that you can try a program like Unlocker to get the .dlls out of Windows memory, but in my experience, it has never worked on AOL program files. I don’t recommend it for the same reason I don’t recommend the ever-popular Revo Uninstaller – on AOL programs specifically, both have proven not just incomplete in their effects, but Revo Uninstaller in particular gives you the potential to destroy your entire Registry in just a few clicks if you switch to Advanced Mode.

To edit your registry manually, click Start, Run, and type regedit into the Run box without quotes. On the Registry Editor’s Toolbar, click Edit, scroll down to and click on Find, type in “AOL” without quotes, then click Find Next (click here for a screen shot). Repeat for the search term “America Online”. You will click Find Next literally hundreds of times before this is finished, so make sure you have the time and patience for this. When you find an AOL or American Online registry entry, delete it by right-clicking it and choosing “Delete” (click here for another screen shot).

To use jv16 PT for this task instead, follow the instructions on this page from Step 5 through Step 6.

Once you’ve removed AOL from the Windows Registry, deleting leftover AOL files and folders from Windows, including previously locked .dll files, will be a snap (but if you run into a problem, restarting your computer after you edit the registry to remove AOL and before you try to delete the previously locked file again might be helpful).

Just a quick update on jv16 PowerTools 2009…

After receiving a comment on this blog today about jv16 2006 (someone used it to remove AOL from Vista, which I do not recommend anyone do with the 2006 version) I remembered the jv16 PT dev has come out with numerous updates of the program since he released the first 2009 version.

I gave the latest version, released on May 16th, a run about a month ago on my Vista install, and it performed admirably compared to previous versions. My only caveats are that it will always be slower, in my opinion, than jv16 PT 2006 was, but since the 2006 version doesn’t work all that well on Vista, that’s neither here nor there.

Continue reading…

What’s the best uninstaller for AOL? Results are in.

Edited 5-23-08.

All those tests I’ve written about doing to find the best software to remove AOL are finally done. Frankly, I’m a little surprised at the results.

Results: Just keep on using the same old programs to remove AOL.

You’d think I could do better than that, and I tried because I love how so many of you want to find the best ways to remove AOL, but I couldn’t come up with anything niftier than my current methods (well, I did find one Honorable Mention) – blame it on lack of better technology.

Continue reading…

I’m in love…with an uninstaller.

I cannot believe this thing. Seriously, I’m in awe. I’ve been eying it for months but never touched it because I wasn’t using Vista when I found it. And it’s just a simple, lowly batch script. Haven’t had much luck with those in the past!

Ran it just now and words can’t even do it justice – or maybe they can – let’s see: it bypasses AOL’s uninstaller entirely (except for one brief stop at the AOL Toolbar Uninstaller), removes almost every AOL reg entry (just 12 entries left afterward), and requires just one restart no matter how many AOL programs you’ve got installed. And it’s quick! Naturally I want to marry whoever wrote it – or at least reincarnate as him in my next life.

Vista users: try it. XP users: don’t. It only works on Vista, at least as far as I can tell.

You may get a few “cannot find uninstall.exe” warnings. Just click through them and the UA warnings (if UAC is enabled on your PC) – I promise, you won’t be sorry.

5-22-08, Update: This product made my Honorable Mention list as one of the three Greatest AOL Removal Products of All Time.

How to Uninstall Any Version of AOL with CCleaner

Last updated 3-16-09.

Problem: How to uninstall AOL.

Solution: CCleaner.

Difficulty Level: Easy

Uninstalls/Cleans Up After: Any Version of AOL

Good for: XP and Vista/Windows 7 users.

Easy...uninstalling AOL with CCleaner

Advanced Vista/Windows 7 users only: I suggest you use CCleaner first, then follow up with jv16 PT 2006 to get at AOL’s leftover registry entries – if you use CCleaner first you can remove every leftover reg entry with jv16 afterward. No other method tested so far on Vista does that.

Credit for the idea to write this tutorial goes to William (the page no longer exists), who’s comments made me check out CCleaner’s neat features.

All visitors running Windows ’98/2000/ME/XP: Before we get started, visit this page to learn how to back up your registry, files, and folders. See this tutorial to uninstall the AOL WAN Miniport after you’ve removed AOL.

Continue reading…

Review of AOL Removal Tools

jv16PowerTools - image source: http://hwupgrade.it

Also see How to Uninstall AOL.

Edited/updated 12-08-2006.

After I ran tests a month or so ago, I concluded neither Mr. Tech’s AOL Cleaner nor the PC De-Crapifier do a good job of removing files, folders, and registry entries when they uninstall AOL, but I did my tests on a PC with 9.0, OpenRide, AOL’s Safety and Security Center and Security Monitor installed — more crap than either could handle, and didn’t test them until I’d already “uninstalled” AOL using AOL’s own uninstallers.

It hit me later that these tests weren’t good enough to base my results on, but neither cleaner did much better the second time around, so for the tech guys who deleted 2 podcasts about my uninstall and how-to cancel pages after I stopped recommending the PC De-Crapifier (update below), I’m hoping your site won’t be the last one to notice little ol’ mine.

Continue reading…

How to Uninstall Any Version of AOL with jv16PowerTools

Last updated 2-27-10 with fresh download link for jv16 PT 2006.

Problem: How to uninstall AOL.

Solution: jv16 PowerTools.

Difficulty Level: Advanced

Uninstalls/Cleans Up After: Any Version of AOL

Good for: XP users only. Vista and Windows 7 users: give jv16 PT 2009 or CCleaner a try.

I’ll be honest: this tutorial is not very quick, so if you don’t have some spare time and a firm desire to clean out every last trace of AOL, see How To Remove AOL with CCleaner instead. Take these steps at your own risk. I’m not responsible for what happens. Bookmark this page, since you’ll need to restart your computer to finish removing AOL.

All visitors running Windows ’98/2000/ME/XP: Before we get started, visit this page to learn how to back up your registry, files, and folders. See this tutorial to uninstall the AOL WAN Miniport after  you’ve removed AOL.

Mac users, please read this advice for removing AOL at Mac Rumors.

Issues for all AOL users running XP, Vista or Windows 7: I’ve had email that some PCs are infected by viruses when removing AOL, so run a scan with the free online Trend Micro tool before you get started. Some versions of 9.0 SE will not uninstall because a process won’t shut down and all versions of AOL may become corrupted and unremoveable by normal means; if that’s the case use my instructions to stop the AOL Connectivity Service from running before you remove AOL. See this (for XP) or this (for Vista) if you can’t find or run the AOL Uninstaller.

This tutorial helps you remove AOL and it cleans up and optimizes your PC. Continue reading…