Managing Windows Startup Programs

It doesn’t take very long for the number of programs installed on your PC to get out of control. Between utilities to block pop-up windows, instant messaging programs and download managers, your Windows system tray can quickly become a distorted rainbow of icons whose purpose may be a mystery. Unfortunately, as more and more utilities are designed to start automatically upon loading Windows, system performance tends to suffer. Not only do these utilities lengthen the time that your system takes to load, they also consume valuable memory space, often needlessly. The good news is that regaining control of your PC is possible without the need to uninstall programs used only occasionally. With a quick look at the Windows startup process and few different utilities, you can be back in control of your system in no time.

The Startup Folder

When a Windows system boots, shortcuts to programs contained in your Startup folder are launched automatically. Many installed programs will automatically add a shortcut to this folder as part of their installation process. For example, if you have Microsoft Office installed, chances are good that you’ll find a shortcut to the Office toolbar stored in this folder. When the shortcuts contained in this folder are deleted, the particular program will no longer launch automatically. Although having some programs load automatically is useful, a number of those placed in the Startup folder are more obscure and probably not of much use to you on a daily basis.

The first key to dealing with the Startup folder is finding it. On a Windows 95/98/ME system, this folder is accessible from the Start menu, in the Program Files – Startup section. Pointing to this location will display a list of shortcuts to programs set to run automatically. In Windows 98 or ME, you can simply right-click on the Start menu shortcut and delete them. However, on a system running Windows 95, you’ll need to access the actual Startup folder and delete the individual icons, located at C:\WINDOWS\Start Menu\Programs\StartUp by default. Of course, you can also add shortcuts to this folder if you goal is to have a particular shortcut launch automatically.

On a Windows 2000 or XP system, the location of the Startup folder will vary because of the use of profiles for different users. The first place to check for startup shortcuts is the C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder. Shortcuts found in this folder are launched for all users on the PC, and most installed applications will use this folder rather than the one associated with an individual user. However, it’s still worth checking the C:\Documents and Settings\username\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder, since an annoying shortcut or two may be buried away in there as well.

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.