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A Fix For One Java Annoyance?

One of the ongoing irritations of Windows computer maintenance is having to clean up after programs that won't behave themselves. And one of the foremost offenders in that category is Sun Microsystems' Java Runtime Environment software. Although it's smart enough to check for, download and install its own updates, it's too stupid to uninstall old versions.

These old releases aren't little files, they each take up 100 megabytes or more. Check in your Add or Remove Programs control panel now--you just might find that you've lost a gigabyte of disk space in this manner.

I've noted this problem in multiple Help File items, and Security Fix blogger Brian Krebs has also complained about it.

Earlier this week, Sun spokeswoman Terri Molini responded to a query in e-mail, passing along this statement from Sun's chief technical officer Bob Brewin:

This is a known problem and we are going to be immediately addressing such issues as part of our general strategy for improving the experience of those using the Java Runtime Environment, where such issues as installation size, download time and runtime behavior are a barrier to ease of use and/or general user experience of Java.

Immediately, eh? We'll be waiting anxiously...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 18, 2007; 10:18 AM ET
Categories:  Gripes  
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Comments

So can we safely remove the old versions from our PCs? Or will doing so remove some "critical components" used by the current version?

Nice to see that Sun is "immediately addressing" something that has been an issue for 10 years.

Posted by: Jumpcut | May 18, 2007 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Thanks so much for this article that finaly clears up the "Java-Issue" for me. I always delete the old version of Java after downloading a new one because of the large size of the files, but I was never sure if I done the right thing. It just seems logical to me that an update is added to the old file, - especially when the new file is larger then the old one.
Do that makes sense?
I enjoy reading your articles.
Thanks..........Marion McNeill.

Posted by: Marion McNeill | May 18, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Jumpcut -

You can *almost* always safely remove old versions, using the Windows Add/remove programs control panel item, or the uninstaller of your choice. The only downside is if you happen to have an older application that requires an older version of Java and can't handle a new one. I have never had this happen, but a colleague tells me he had a client who could not play a "Pong" game once an older Java version was uninstalled. (I wonder if s/he was playing on a black screen with green paddles?)

Anyway, install the new version first, play all your games or whatever, and then uninstall the old stuff if it seems sensible. Rob is correct --- these are enormous files!

Posted by: catester | May 18, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

In addition to being an annoyance those previous installations could be a security risk. Updates may have been pushed for security reasons and you're left with the insecure software still on your computer. It's been an excusable problem for a long time.

Posted by: Boyd | May 18, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Java is the bane of our existance at work, where we do indeed have multiple web-based apps that are not only Java dependant, but dependat upon specific versions of Java. So we have to make sure that each of those is installed and that no automatic updates can occur, because no version past 1.4.2.12 is supported by the most prevalent app. Whatta pain!!

I know that hard-coding version dependancies within their apps is the vendors' fault, not Sun's, but perhaps the Javamakers could do something to discourage this kind of 1980s programming 'logic?'

Posted by: Rob O. | May 19, 2007 10:02 AM | Report abuse

This is not an easy problem. First, Java installs don't necessarily come from java.sun.com. Some are packaged with major OTS products. Second, applications are often built with a specific Java release in mind. They are configured independently because a JAVA_HOME environment variable is not sufficiently reliable. Therefore removing an old version can cripple applications. Since major versions are not anywhere near 100% forwards/backwards compatible, I personally need 4 separate versions, a 1.4 (for backwards compatibility testing), a 5.x (what I use 95% of the time), a 6.x (for forwards compatibility testing), and whatever Oracle installs for its crap (as if I'm going to mess with that). I certainly wouldn't want Sun's installer arbitrarily uninstalling old versions.

About the best we can hope for is the "Custom" install to ask the user whether to uninstall previous minor versions of the same major version. Anything more than that would be asking for trouble.

Posted by: Jeff Y. | May 20, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Rob, perhaps someone can address this -- but I had been told that you actually COULDN'T remove prior versions of Java because newer versions weren't "backwards compatible" and that you might not be able to run older javascripts written for previous versions. Or something to that effect......

Have/has/had anyone heard that? Or did I just make it up/imagine it out of whole cloth?

Posted by: Bob | May 21, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I've been reasonably diligent in removing old versions of Java after new releases are installed ("reasonably" meaning that on the Dell laptop at home, I just now checked and realized I had to yank out two old editions), and I can't remember ever having a problem running a Java applet as a result.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | May 21, 2007 6:42 PM | Report abuse

I also noticed all the previous runtime entries in my add remove control panel and was afraid to remove the older ones but I did so anyway and experienced no adverse consequences.

My experiences with Comcast tech support as well as t-mobile have been quite good.

Posted by: Michael Shelley | May 22, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I've been had twice -- i.e. on 2 different computers -- by duplicate installations of Sun Java JRE 1.5.x / 5.x,version 5.0.110.3,once in path C:\Program Files\Java\jre1.5.0_11\bin\java.exe, and AGAIN in path C:\WINDOWS\system32\java.exe.

Talk about a waste of disk space! Can someone tell me which can go? I've not dared to pick one, in view of the fact that the same dual installation occurred automatically in two different computers!

Posted by: Ivan Sellin | May 22, 2007 11:03 PM | Report abuse

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