Removing U3 (and associated bundled software) from the SanDisk Cruzer Micro USB flash drive

Ok, so this isn’t really a hack per se, but it’s useful information for anyone who’s just bought one of these little puppies.

I saw this nice little 1GB USB flash drive when I was in Wisconsin last week for 30 bucks (after instant rebate) at a Best Buy. I was there for something else, but my dad had just misplaced his USB drive just before an extended consulting trip to North Carolina, and I figured I’d call and ask if he wanted me to pick one up for him. (My question was really whether I should buy one or two – 30 bucks is a very nice price for a decent amount of storage, and I figured Christian and I could certainly use it.)

So 60 bucks later, I left Best Buy with two little USB drives. They’re nice and small, have a retractable USB connector, and don’t have a cap to lose (which may or may not be a good thing). I thought it was a good buy in any event. When I got to the car, though, I noticed the fine print about U3 technology and some crappy software bundled on the drive (Skype with a free month of voicemail, some password storage software, and an anti-virus package, I think). Eh, I thought to myself. I’ll just wipe it when I get home. As I’ve implied before, I don’t really like companies deciding what’s installed on my hardware for me.

Well, I finally unpacked the thing today, and for some reason or other decided to look up this U3 stuff before I plugged the thing in. I like to know what devices and software are going to do before I let them run amok on my system. Sure enough, Amazon’s reviews of the drive had lots of complaints about the U3 Launchpad application running everytime the drive was plugged in, lots of undesirable stuff going on in the background, errors if the drive was not removed using the U3 tool instead of the Windows “Safely Remove Hardware” application, etc.

Ewww… I thought. This could suck… Bunches of people griping about it can’t mean anything good.

Of course, I’ve overestimated people before.

But after finding out how to fix it and forwarding the link to my father (who I hadn’t talked to since he got to North Carolina and started using the thing), I found out even he had had trouble with it. He’s a darned smart cookie, and he was pretty irritated:

It is REALLY annoying. It even told me that I had removed it improperly without using the f@3$%$*** eject button, even though I had disabled it from windows. … [I] will fix it after I transfer my files, but it’s nice to know that I don’t have to throw the damned thing away!

So I figured posting the fix might not be a bad thing, and might speed up some frustrated person’s search on how to get rid of the unwanted software. Fortunately, poking around at the SanDisk site reveals that it’s pretty easy to get U3 and all of the associated crap off of your drive.

Here’s how it goes, if you’re running Windoze (I don’t know if U3 even runs for other OSs, so if you’re running MacOS X or a *nix distro, the fix may be as simple as just formatting the drive):

  1. If you’ve used the device before, make sure you’ve gotten everything off of the drive you need. You’ll be reformatting it. (The application may have an option that allows you to keep the data – I don’t remember – but better safe than sorry.)
  2. Plug in the drive – the U3 launchpad will load. You can close the U3 tour program and whatever main window pops up if you like, but leave the U3 launchpad icon in the system tray enabled (i.e. don’t exit the launchpad application entirely).
  3. Download SanDisk’s U3 Launchpad Removal Tool (opens in new window) – as the site says, make sure the USB device is plugged in and Launchpad is still running.
  4. Run the tool, and choose the option which completely removes U3 and formats the drive.

VoilĂ , you now have a regular old USB drive which you can break in any way you want.

(Edit: If the SanDisk tool above doesn’t work for you, you might try the uninstall tool from u3.com – thanks to Olaf for the information. I had no trouble with the SanDisk tool, but I can only speak for myself!)

I admit that I am not a fan of bundling unwanted applications with devices or other software. Hell, I get annoyed with programs that install links to URLs for internet providers on my desktop, let alone executables that hide on my disk doing God-knows-what. (Well, ok, I have a pretty good idea as to what, but that’s only because I take the time to find out and eradicate them.) This is just one more example of how companies think it’s really OK to do whatever they want with your machine once you’ve bought something from them – purchase this OS, and you tacitly agree to relinquish control of your data. Purchase this DSL package, and you agree to have MSN as your ISP, even if you don’t need the service. Purchase this hardware, and you agree to let data be tracked that you would otherwise keep private or to run certain applications on your machine that you have no desire or need for.

Now, I understand that part of the reason that drive was so cheap was probably because there was some monetary incentive to SanDisk to push U3 out to consumers. And it was easy enough to get rid of once I looked for a solution. But let’s face it – Joe Blow who uses his CD drive for a cup holder and thinks he breaks the Internet every time his connection lags is not going to know how to find a solution. My feeling is that unless the software is clearly advertised on the packaging along with an explicit mention of how to get rid of the software, companies have no business installing or running anything on your machine that is not directly related to the product you intended to buy.

I loooooove corporate America. Yes, yes I do.

Standard disclaimer: If anything breaks as a result of following any instructions anywhere on this site, the responsibility lies with you, not me. I’m a poor academic – suing me would be pointless anyway… :)

(Added 1/10: Thanks to Jim C. for the updated Sandisk removal link.)

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253 Responses to Removing U3 (and associated bundled software) from the SanDisk Cruzer Micro USB flash drive

  1. Slav says:

    Thanks a lot for this quick info. I can’t believe SanDisk would force a program on you and not even include the removal software on the stick itself. A$$clowns.

    Thanks again.

  2. Huhwhat says:

    Ed note: As usual, if the comments are abusive, they get edited, generally cut down to whatever useful information they may contain.

    Also, do note that this post was written in late 2006, when there was not in fact removal software built into the drive and the SanDisk + U3 was in fact one of the cheapest thumb drives available. Use your damned brain before you flame.

    What follows is the only useful information from the post, IMHO, and MHO is the only one that counts on my own damned blog. Pick someplace else to be an asshole, dude…

    And to Armand, Start > Run > CMD > type “Convert DriveLetter: /FS:NTFS /X” If you Upgrade to a newer version of U3 it doesnt format the drive back to Fat32 it just writes to the CD partition so it stays NTFS or in my case EXT2

  3. Krista says:

    After 250+ comments and nearly 2 years, I’m still getting the occasional dorkass that sees the need to flash his unimpressive tackle in the comments for this post; I only left the comments open because occasionally someone added something useful (it doesn’t matter to me anymore anyhow, and was never that important to me personally except as an irritant).

    I think, though, that this may have outlived its usefulness. Trolls can head back on over to Slashdot :) The comments are now closed.