Changing Program Startup Settings in the Windows Registry

If the Startup folder doesn’t seem to hold the key to all those utilities that launch automatically, the answer is almost always found in the Windows Registry. Although you should generally avoid manually editing the Registry except when necessary, this is generally the place where you’ll find the definitive answer to what Windows is loading automatically. Later in this article we’ll take a look at various utilities that allow you to control your PC’s startup environment. Ultimately, each of these tools simply provides a prettier interface from which you can more safely edit Registry values.

The Windows Registry is by its nature a complex beast, which is part of the reason why Microsoft generally recommends staying out of it. Prior to making any Registry changes, always ensure that you’ve backed it up.

The two main tools used to interact with the Registry are Regedit.exe and Regedt32.exe. The settings that control which utilities always run automatically at startup tend to be stored in 4 different locations – 2 under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, and another 2 under HKEY_CURRENT_USER. In both cases, the most common place to look for startup settings is under the \Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\ folder (or key), where you’ll find two very important folders, namely Run and RunServices. Both folders will contain values that specify the path to programs or services to be launched automatically.

To remove a program or service from starting automatically, simply delete the value associated with the offending program. However, be sure to note exactly which programs you need to remove prior to taking this action – you won’t be prompted to save any of your changes, and mistakenly deleting a required application or service may render your system unbootable.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.