Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Hidden side effects of removing software

Hidden side effects of removing software

Getting rid of unsafe programs from your PC can cause problems. Mike Plant reveals the pitfalls of removing unwanted software and how to avoid them

Warning: side effects may include headaches, sickness and drowsiness. We’ve all seen this kind of advice on medication packaging, yet we take our medicine nonetheless – in the hope that the benefits outweigh the risks.

It’s a similar story when it comes to uninstalling certain PC programs. It’s all too tempting to get rid of unsafe and unwanted software without a second thought, but the side effects can include compatibility problems, files you can’t open, online videos you can’t play, and incomprehensible error messages.

Here we explain just some of the drawbacks of removing potentially harmful programs and how to keep your PC running smoothly without them.


You may not have heard, but Apple has quietly withdrawn support for its QuickTime video player on Windows PCs. This makes it a real security risk – so much so that the US government’s Department of Homeland Security recently took the rare step of advising the public to uninstall it or risk being hacked (see

That’s sound advice, but the warning failed to explain that removing it could prevent your videos from opening the next time you try to watch one of them. This is because QuickTime allows video files with Apple’s .MOV extension to play on Windows PCs. Removing QuickTime deletes the codec that lets .MOV video files play on your computer.

The solution is to download our favourite video player VLC Media Player ( The versatile VLC can handle .MOV files – even after you remove QuickTime. To uninstall QuickTime, open Control Panel, click Programs, ‘Programs and Features’, then select QuickTime and click Uninstall.


Microsoft’s browser plug-in lets you play certain types of multimedia (video, audio, graphics) on websites. It was released in 2007 as a rival to Adobe Flash – both have since fallen on hard times (see Flash section, on opposite page). Silverlight is no longer being developed by Microsoft, who will release only bug fixes and security patches from now on, and support for it is being abandoned by Chrome. Having it installed on your PC isn’t dangerous – at least not yet – but it’s an increasingly obsolete piece of software that’s taking up space. Most websites use HTML5 these days – a fact Microsoft acknowledged when it didn’t include support for Silverlight in Edge, its default browser for Windows 10.

The best advice is to uninstall Silverlight, unless you watch Netflix, Amazon Prime or Sky Go on your PC. These video-streaming services still require Silverlight, although all three have announced plans to abandon it in favour of HTML5 in the next few years. Netflix subscribers who have Windows 8.1 or 10 PCs can already use the service without Silverlight by downloading the Netflix app from the Windows Store (


As regular Computeractive readers will know only too well, we really don’t like Java, and this isn’t the first time we’ve recommended you rid your PC of it. The programming language and computer platform was first launched in 1995 to improve the appearance of websites, but hackers quickly realised that Java could be exploited to hack into PCs.

The only people who might miss Java are those who have to remotely log into another computer – at their workplace, for example. Some setups rely on Java to create the connection between home and work computers. If this applies to you, we recommend you keep it up to date, because hackers are far more likely to exploit older versions of Java. For everyone else, we suggest you get shot of it. If you’re not sure you have Java installed, you can check using this website:

Before you go ahead with a full-on removal, try disabling it first, to make sure your PC still runs smoothly without it. Tap the Start button on your keyboard, type configure Java and press Enter. Then untick the box next to ‘Enable Java content in the browser’ in the Java Control Panel, then click Apply.


Another perennial bugbear of ours. Like Java, Flash is a programming tool meant to make websites, well… flashier, but it too has become a massive target for hackers keen to exploit its flaws and smuggle malware on to PCs via the internet.

Removing it will stop Flash-based websites, videos and games working on your PC. However, Flash’s damaged reputation for security has meant that websites are increasingly based on HTML5, so the impact of losing it is a lot less severe than it would have been a few years back.

To ditch Flash you need to download Adobe’s uninstaller (, click the blue Uninstaller link at the top of the page). Once it has downloaded, close any open browsers and run the uninstaller. Once that’s done, restart your PC and then use Adobe’s Flash checker ( Click the yellow Check Now button to confirm its removal.


With Apple removing support for QuickTime and the Safari browser for Windows before that, it could be time for Windows users to start abandoning other Apple software before it abandons you. iTunes is the most popular Apple program found on Windows PCs, and removing it will prevent your iPhone or iPad syncing the music on your PC. However, there are alternatives to iTunes.

MediaMonkey, for example, is a free program that you can use to manage, play and sync files across your PC, iPhone and iPad. Download and install it from - click the black Download Now button, rather than the paid-for Get MediaMonkey Gold Free option. Select the folder that contains your music when prompted, then connect your iPad or iPhone and enter its passcode to unlock it. MediaMonkey will then detect your device and you’ll be able to sync music in the same way you could with iTunes.

As for removing iTunes, you can uninstall it as you would any Windows program (open Control Panel, click Programs, ‘Programs and Features’, select iTunes and click Uninstall). But, before you do that, it is worth backing up your iTunes library. Microsoft SyncToy ( comes in handy here. Install SyncToy, click Create New Folder Pair, Browse (under the Left Folder), then select your iTunes folder. Now click Browse under the Right Folder and select the drive or folder you want to back up to. Click Next, then select Synchronise and click Next again. Name your folder pair and click Finish. Now click Run to begin the backup process.


Flash is such bad news that many companies have ditched it in favour of the more secure HTML5 for their websites. However, this trend is bucked somewhat when it comes to some of the most popular websites. These big beasts have been slow to move with the times, meaning that deleting Flash could affect how some of your favourite sites perform on your PC.

The BBC, for example, still uses Flash on its iPlayer. Uninstalling Flash will mean the iPlayer will no longer work on your PC. An HTML5 version of iPlayer does exist – you can opt in at – although it doesn’t yet play live TV (unlike its Flash-based counterpart).

Facebook users still require Flash to play its videos and games, though we think the whole experience of using the site is enhanced by their absence anyway. Other sites, such as The Daily Mail, Sky News and MSN all use Flash to varying degrees, but primarily as a means to bombard you with adverts – one more reason to ditch it.