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Windows System Configuration Utility (Msconfig) and Startup

The Windows System Configuration Utility (Msconfig) is a system tool that allows you to temporarily change the way Windows starts by disabling startup programs and services. We continue the discussion of controlling what programs are allowed to run automatically that was begun on the previous page. Here we show how to use Msconfig.

This useful accessory is present in Windows XP, Vista, and 7 but is not listed in the Start|Programs menu. The easiest way to access it is to go to Start|Run and enter “msconfig” (without quotes) in Windows XP or the Search box in Windows Vista/7. .

Using Run to open Msconfig

In the window that comes up there is a tab “Startup” .

General tab in Msconfig

Click the Startup tab and you get a list of things that are loaded automatically when you turn on your computer. On the left of each entry is a check box. Unchecking this box will remove the item from startup at the next boot of your computer. It does NOT remove the item from your computer. In the figure below , you can see examples of some unnecessary functions such as Quicken "Billminder" that have had their checks removed. The user can still choose to run the process whenever desired. Also, if you find that you really do want the thing to load at startup, you can always put the check back.

Startup tab in Msconfig

Many PC users are reluctant to make use of Msconfig, however, because they are afraid of removing something essential. As a general rule, it is my personal opinion that very few programs are essential at startup. Every system is different but power management, system tray, anti-virus program, and firewall are pretty close to all that many people need. I feel that most people will miss nothing by removing any references to Quicken, Microsoft Office, RealPlayer, or AOL. Fortunately, there are excellent references that explain the function of almost anything you are likely to see in the startup list and give recommendations on whether it is safe to remove. Several are given on the previous page.

In addition to the program modules that may be running at startup, there are a variety of processes called "services" and there is also a tab for displaying these, as shown in the figure below.

Services tab in Msconfig

There are many essential Windows services and it is may be convenient to look at only the non-Microsoft services. There is a box where a check can be placed by the setting "Hide All Microsoft Services", as shown below.

Hiding Microsoft services

You may notice that there are a lot of services from Symantec, which is one reason why Norton software (and other anti-virus programs) can measurably slow down your machine.(Personally, I disable many of these but the average PC user should not follow my example without understanding their function and unless you take all the other precautions that I follow to defend my machine.)

Actually, for the purpose of managing services, it may be better to use the "Services Console" and that is discussed on the next page.

Update from Microsoft

For systems with Windows XP SP2, Microsoft has released an update to Msconfig. It is available here. The update adds a Tools tab that allows further diagnostic tools to be launched from Msconfig. The new version of Msconfig is shown below with the new tab "Tools" selected.

Tools tab in Msconfig

Using switches for opening specific tabs

As can be seen in the figure above, the interface for Msconfig has seven tabs (counting "Tools"). Entering the plain command "msconfig" into Start-Run opens Msconfig with the first or "General" tab displayed. However, Msconfig can be opened with any of the other tabs displayed by using a numerical switch. Thus the command will have the form msconfig -nwhere n is an integer from 1 to 7 corresponding to the left-to-right order of the tabs. For example, the command msconfig -5 will open Msconfig with the Services tab displayed. Table I shows the various tab settings corresponding to the integer n.

Table I. Switches for tabs in Msconfig
Switch value Tab
1 (not necessary) General
5 Services
6 Startup
7 Tools

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