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):
(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:
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.
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).
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).