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Windows XP Services
Many functions of the Windows XP operating system and other software are classified under the general rubric of “services”. These include such core services as Windows Management Instrumentation as well as some unnecessary functions such as Windows Messenger. By default, quite a few services that most PC users don’t need are set to run automatically in the background. On this page we will discuss how to manage what services are running on your system.

To see the services that are on your computer go to Start|Run and enter “services.msc”. (As is characteristic of Windows, this is only one of several ways.) This will open what is called the “services console,” which will appear in a window like the figure below. To show the complete console you may need to open the “View” menu and click on “Detail”. The services console is where unneeded services can be stopped from running, thus freeing up resources. Also services that are intended for networked computers or specialized administrative functions may make your system less secure and can be disabled.

 

When a service is highlighted, a description of the service is given on the left side. In the figure above, the service called “DHCP Client” has been selected. The column headed “Description” also contains the explanation of all the services but has to be expanded to see the whole description. Put your mouse on the divider bar between the column heading “Description” and the column heading “Status”. A cross hair will replace the mouse pointer and dragging to the right will expand the column width. Many people may find the list of services to be pretty cryptic so some further explanation of the meaning of the entries may be needed. Comprehensive lists can be found in the references given on a previous page. These sites make extensive recommendations about which services to turn off. A less overwhelming list is given in an article at PC World. Among the services that most people can dispense with are the Messenger service ( discussed on another page), Remote Registry, Internet Connection Sharing, and Smart Card Service. See the references for more information.

The column in the figure above labeled, “Startup Type”, indicates one of three possible conditions for a service. “Automatic” means that the service starts automatically at boot up (or user log on for multi-user setups). “Manual” indicates that the service can be turned on as needed while “Disabled” means the service is not available unless it is re-enabled in the Services console. An entry “Started” in the “Status” column indicates whether a service is currently running.

To disable a service or to change from Automatic to Manual, right-click on the entry for the service and choose “Properties” from the context menu. (“Properties” can also be accessed via the “Action” menu.) A window like the figure below will open.

In the entry “Startup type”, you can scroll to choose which of the three states is desired. In addition to configuring the startup type, you can also temporarily stop a service by clicking the “Stop” button that is below the “Startup Type” entry in the area “Service status”. This action only lasts until the next boot up or log on. Permanent configuration has to be done in “Startup type”. “Stop” is a useful function for checking to see what happens when a service is prevented from running without having to go through booting. A temporarily stopped service can also be restarted in this area by using the “Start” button. The “Stop” and “Restart” functions are also available when a service is highlighted in the main window (left side first figure above) or from the right-click context menu for a given service.

Not only Windows functions but also services from other software will be listed in the services console and can accordingly be stopped and restarted. For example,the figure below includes entries from Symantec and a highlighted entry (TrueVector) from ZoneAlarm. Note that for the ZoneAlarm case there is a “Pause” function in addition to “Stop” and “Restart”. The name “Pause” is a little unclear but means that the service is stopped for user accounts that do not have administrative or service privileges.

Our old friend, the System Configuration Utility (Msconfig), also can be used to control services and the procedure is discussed on another page. However, Msconfig does not list all services and the services console is a preferable place to control which services will run. Also the services console contains more information about a service, making it easier to understand what the service does.

As always has to be said, make no system changes unless you know how to undo them and get back to where you started. Also there are interdependencies among the services and disabling one may disable others. See the references for details.

Next we discuss the method of last resort for controlling startup- editing the Registry 


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