Uninstall iTunes completely and then reinstall a new copy
Starting over with a fresh copy of Apple's media-player software requires uninstalling several programs besides iTunes itself.
Last week I started wondering whether there was a mini-epidemic of faltering iTunes installations. Three times in quick succession someone contacted me asking the same question: how to uninstall iTunes and their entire media library so they could reinstall the program as if for the first time.
They all used Windows' Control Panel to uninstall iTunes, and the program appeared to be deleted, but when they installed a new copy, their old library was still in place.
Wiping out all traces of iTunes in anticipation of creating a completely new media library isn't so simple. It requires removing several other Apple programs in a particular order. The whole process took me about 30 minutes to complete on a Windows 7 PC that stored a media library of about 2,500 songs.
Uninstalling iTunes is only the beginning
The instructions on the Apple Support site for removing and reinstalling iTunes on a PC running Windows 7 or Windows 8 exclude one other Apple program you have to uninstall: iCloud. (Apple Support also explains iTunes removal for Windows XP.)
It's even trickier to uninstall iTunes on Mac OS X. A 16-step tutorial on iClarified explains the process, but as the comments following the tutorial indicate, some iTunes vestiges may remain after you complete the steps.
If you're unable to have an iOS device recognized by iTunes, Apple recommends removing and reinstalling the Apple Mobile Device Service, as explained on the Apple Support site.
Since all three of the people who contacted me about refreshing iTunes run the program on Windows PCs, that's the platform I'll focus on here.
Wholesale Apple software removal
Start by opening the Uninstall/Change option in the Programs and Features Control Panel applet. A fast way to access the option is to press the Windows key plus E, which opens a File Explorer window with "Uninstall or change a program" at the top.
Apple Support identifies five programs that need to be removed in the following sequence:
Apple Software Update
Apple Mobile Device Support
Apple Application Support
When I tested the instructions, I also had to uninstall the iCloud Control Panel (which is listed simply as "iCloud" in Programs and Features).
After uninstalling the six Apple programs, restart the PC and make sure the following folders have been deleted (if they're still around, delete them):
C:\Program Files\Common Files\Apple\
Note that in 64-bit versions of Windows, the root folders are named "\Program files (x86)".
Once you've confirmed that the folders are deleted, restart the PC and then install the latest version of iTunes.
In my new iTunes installation some ghost entries remained: selecting an entry generated a "can't find the file" error. To get rid of the phantom tracks, I pressed Ctrl-A to highlight all the entries and then pressed Delete.