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Managing the Programs That Run When Windows Starts Up
One of computing’s big annoyances is software that wants to run some of its components at all times, whether the program is being used or not. More and more, programs are inserting things into the startup process so that every time you turn on your computer all sorts of stuff is running in the background without asking you. All these processes take up memory, CPU time, and other resources and can significantly slow up or even crash your machine. Here is the first of four pages on how to take charge of your computer and see to it that programs only run when you want them.

Some companies have become notorious for the junk that they stick on your computer.  Some of them even go on the Internet without telling you. Intuit, AOL, and RealMedia are some names whose practices I personally find irritating. Also Windows itself will run many unnecessary services in the background if left in the default configuration. Fortunately, there are several methods for stopping these wasteful and unnecessary processes from running automatically. Note that I am not talking about removing any program components, only preventing them from running unasked. The computer user can retain the option of running something at any time, while removing it from the startup.
A more serious but related problem is spyware and adware. These types of programs can also begin running in the background at startup. These pests can be controlled with special software such as discussed at this link. However, sometimes spyware removers will miss something and the presence of unwanted programs can be detected by examining what starts up. A list of locations where program startup might be initiated (including malware) is given here.

System Tools for Controlling Programs at Startup

Windows comes  with two accessories designed for monitoring and configuring the startup programs and services. One is the System Configuration Utility and the other is the Services Console. The Registry Editor can also be used to control startup but is a last resort.

For more details go to these pages:
System Configuration Utility
This system tool is often called "msconfig" and is present in Windows 98/Me/XP (but not 2000).
Services Console
In addition to program executables, other processes known as "services' can be running in the background. Window XP comes with a module known as the Services Console (services.msc) for configuring services as well as programs
The Registry Editor
What starts up can also be controlled by editing the Registry. This is a last resort for stubborn cases and is only for experienced PC users.

Other Software Tools for Controlling Startup

In addition to the tools provided by Windows, there are a number of programs available for controlling startup. An excellent freeware program is WinPatrol. This program has a number of features, including an Internet cookie manager. One virtue of this program is that it gives explanations of what many of the services actually do, making it easier to decide if they are needed or not. There is also a paid version with added functions.

A freeware program that deals only with startup is Startup Control Panel from Mike Lin. This program gives the entries in various Registry keys. A free script that helps detect spyware and adware in the startup process is the Silent Runners script by Andrew Aronoff.

How to Determine What to Remove from Startup

To some extent this is a personal choice but there are some services that can be a downright nuisance such as Messenger and others that are a possible security risk. A hurdle for many people who wish to control their startup programs and services is that they do not know which ones are needed and which are not. Fortunately, there are several good Web sites that explain the function of many common startup entries and give recommendations. An analsysis of whether some popular recommendations actually help is given at AnandTech.

On the next page we discuss the details of using Msconfig.

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