On One Hand

April 19, 2007

The AOL Amoeba

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 9:59 pm

AOL is a virus. It’s an amoeba. It creeps into a computer as free software and eventually incorporates every useful thing into itself. If you don’t stop it, AOL will destroy you.

I installed AOL on this computer years ago, innocently, as my main Internet browser and email service. I was using dial-up at my parents’ house, on my way to live in the dorms where I would get a much better Internet connection. I was 18 years old. Over time, automatic updates offered new versions of AOL, each a little larger and fancier, with the likes of 5.0, 6.0beta, 6.0, 7.0, with increasing variance of decimal points, eventually up to version 9. I was pleasently surprised when the AOL service offered free spyware protection, a free virus scan, and free computer repair services.

That is, until AOL started presenting me with more offers and pop-ups than I ever could have gotten otherwise, and meanwhile my Windows Task Manager reported that about 40 percent of the programs I had running were AOL related – using over 100K in system resources – and that only includes what I could easily observe.

What was once an innocent program had become a monster. There was no stopping it. Even when I sad “no” to new AOL offers, they found themselves on my computer somehow.

Then the AOL software started loading automatically every time I turned on my computer. I found a way to shut that function off, and for a while it would remain off as long as I never used AOL. But every time I opened the AOL browser the function switched itself back on, to open in full-force with every re-start of the computer, regardless of whether I wanted it or not. The only way to prevent that from happening was to completely quit using the browser, resorting to Internet Explorer – sort of a demon in itself – to check AOL email.

Most programs come with uninstallers, and AOL is no exception, in theory – but AOL’s uninstaller removes 2 files, or about 1/1000 of the total mass of AOL programming on the computer. Meanwhile, opening the “Uninstall AOL” program secretly loads all the other AOL software, so if you check the “processes” section of the Task Manager, several AOL programs are running again. And when they’re running, they resist deletion – I think the program detects when you try to remove any AOL feature and has it automatically re-installed right away.

It’s like a conscious entity that resists its own destruction. Something resembling the computer with a young British girl’s voice in the movie Resident Evil or HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or maybe like a virus that mutates and becomes stronger every time they think they have a cure, like that new strain of HIV on the news, recently discovered in Seattle, that is resistant to ever retroviral drug. When I started deleting AOL files, AOL programs that lurked in the corners of my computer would ensure their swift return. The “Add or Remove Programs” option in the Windows XP Control Panel now shows no AOL software left on the computer – I activated every “remove program” option the menu offered and quickly had the AOL components erased. But I know AOL is still there, because the program is still present on my Start Menu – and still loads when I select it. Meanwhile, good God – AOL has put itself back on the startup menu, to automatically open the program when the computer re-boots. When I look at the Windows Task manger, and view the processes running, “aolsoftware.exe” is there, using 6,000K of memory. When I manually shut the program down by clicking “end process,” it instantly reappears.

An “AOL system info” window that I’ve never seen before, which has spontanteously emerged on my screen in the midst of this, reports that I’ve loaded and connected with AOL a total of 888 times since it has been on this computer. That’s in 4 years that I’ve had this. Goodbye AOL, you were useful once, but no more, and at this point I’m doubting I’ll miss you.

My first shot at a solution? I downloaded a free program called “CCleaner” (which stands for “crap cleaner”) that allegedly removes nasty programs like AOL, according to some of the 1.5 million websites that open when I google search “uninstall AOL.” It’s a free program, and though anything like this is risky (it could turn out to say it removes junk but actually ads it, sort of like the way AOL works), I’m going to give it a shot. It actually has its own uninstaller, which means it’s willing to help you let it go.

Crap Cleaner also clears other junk that lingers on the comptuer – temporary Internet files, cookies, clipboard files and all the like. So far, this program, along with Spybot – probably the most useful computer program ever invented – seems to be a rarity in the electronic world where a program actually does what it says it will.

Crap Cleaner takes a long time to work. I don’t know why. When I set it to do scan through and delete a few simple files, it took about 10 minutes to run. I canceled before it had a chance to finish, and though it said it cleaned “332MB” of space, the only files it logged as deleting were the Temporary Internet Files. I’m not sure if it’s good or not. But it doesn’t seem to be hurting anything, so I’ll keep it for now.

But as for deleting AOL – no luck. Ccleaner only deletes programs already found on the “add or remove programs” file, a course I already tried to take. Going in manually – which is scary – was my ownly recourse.

There were five AOL related folders in “program files;” they were AOL, AOL 9.0, AOL 9.0a, AOL 9.0b, and a folder called “AOD” which clearly contained only AOL-related stuff. All of the folders successfully dumped to the recyle bin except for AOL 9.0, which, upon delete, said “access is denied.”

But at least the other folders were gone, resulting in a dump that took almost 30 seconds to clear from the recycle bin. The remaining 30MB folder seemed immune to delete, and even upon opening it up and gutting its contents one by one, several of the programs resisted with “access denied.” It was ultimately whittled to one folder called “cool” with several “hidden” files that would not allow themselves to be erased.



  1. Matt, restart your computer in safe mode. It will restart windows without any programs from starting on their own. You should then be able to remove those other aol components. It would probably be a good time to run SpyBot again.

    Comment by fb_shs — April 20, 2007 @ 7:11 am | Reply

  2. My best advice would be bring it to the bugbuster walk in center in the Telecom building. It’s free and they will clean everything off they can for you… which is a lot. They know more about computers than I do and that’s scary.

    Comment by matraxis — April 20, 2007 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

    • After I re-started the computer deleting it manually worked fine.

      Thank you, though!

      Comment by ononehand — April 21, 2007 @ 2:18 am | Reply

  3. I love this post, well done:

    “It’s like a conscious entity that resists its own destruction. Something resembling the computer with a young British girl’s voice in the movie Resident Evil or HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or maybe like a virus that mutates and becomes stronger every time they think they have a cure, like that new strain of HIV on the news, recently discovered in Seattle, that is resistant to ever retroviral drug.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Can I quote you?

    I write about AOL on http://anti-aol.livejournal.com. The answer is not CCleaner, a wonderful, safe program, but none too thorough… it’s jv16 powertools 2006, another reg cleaner that gets rid of everything.

    Comment by anti_aol — June 14, 2007 @ 7:55 am | Reply

    • Yes, you may quote me. Glad you liked the post.

      Comment by ononehand — June 14, 2007 @ 8:34 pm | Reply

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