Stump the Geeks

Uninstalling programs during routine computer maintenance raises questions

May 28, 2012 

Over the past few weeks, several readers wrote in to say they took our experts’ advice in doing a bit of spring cleaning on their desktops and laptops. But they also had a few questions.

Q: I was intrigued about your comments regarding disabling Javascript and would like further clarification on them.

I had always assumed (bad thing to do, I know) that Javascript was a necessity for the computer. I searched for whether or not Javascript was necessary and the majority of the answers I got dealt with programming and Web design. I am not a programmer by any means and am only vaguely familiar with “cookbook” Web page programs, and am really trying to understand the ramifications of disabling or removing Javascript.

How will this affect browsing/searching on a day-to-day basis? Will it help prevent all of the pop-up advertising or at least some of it? Will it slow down searches? Will it cause problems in other programs such as Quicken, Adobe, tax-prep programs and others?

Reggie F., Garner

The two can be a bit easy to confuse, but Javascript is different from Java, the platform one of our expert geeks recommended removing a few weeks back due to possible security vulnerabilities.

“Other than the similarity in name, there is little if any relationship between the two,” said Dr. Jo Perry, a lecturer at N.C. State University who teaches Java courses at the engineering school.

Javascript, supported by most popular browsers, is the code written into websites that allows pages to perform a variety of actions.

“Javascript instructions range from fairly simple (opening a new window, for example) to complex operations,” Perry said in an email.

Most browsers allow you to disable javascript, which would prevent pop-ups that use it. But that will also affect performance on a number of sites.

Java, on the other hand, is a programming language for applications. When you download and install it (http://java.com/en/download/index.jsp), what you’re actually using is a Java virtual machine, which allows you the run the code that powers Java programs like games and other apps.

“A JVM runs the code instructions in the machine’s native language,” Perry said. “The JVM, and hence Java, is independent of any Web browser.”

There is legitimate debate – for example, between experts in publications like PCWorld – over whether removing Java from your machine is actually a good thing. It’s not necessarily that doing so will decrease performance, but that it doesn’t actually do much to solve the malware problem.

The simple advice is the same that Paul Rosenberg, owner of the Chapel Hill-based repair shop Love Your Computer, gave last time: patch it or pitch it.

Q: After reading your recent article on deleting old software, I removed several programs. There are also many microsoft.net files and service packs that I didn’t dare delete, but I wonder: Can some of them be safely deleted?

William T., Cary

It’s tough to resist going a little uninstall-happy when doing irregular computer maintenance. But when it comes to ditching these files, Craig Petronella, president of Petronella Computer Consultants in Apex, doesn’t recommend it.

“It takes an expert to remove the right ones, and one mistake can make the system unusable for a small gain in disk space,” Petronella said in an email.

To get more bang for your buck, he recommends a free program called CCleaner, which backs up your PC’s registry and scrubs it clean of the leftovers from uninstalled software.

“Windows operating systems rely on the registry or ‘blueprint’ to know where important files are,” Petronella said. “Over time, this database becomes bloated because when software is uninstalled, the software usually doesn’t clean up the registry, resulting in a slower PC over time.”

Send technology questions to stumpthegeeks@newsobserver.com. Please include your name, city and daytime phone number. Sorry, we can’t answer every question.

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