Windows 8 and 10 have done a stellar job of hiding how to do this, but nothing has really changed — at least not when it comes to this.
You can add a program to auto-start the same way you did in prior versions of Windows. Let’s do that.
Navigate to the Startup subfolder
The basic premise is this: there is a special sub-folder on your Start menu called “Startup.” Any programs or shortcuts found therein are run each time you sign in.
In versions of Windows prior to Windows 8, you could simply navigate to that folder on the Start menu and add shortcuts as needed.
The folder still exists, even though it’s become particularly well hidden as of Windows 8.
There are still several ways to examine the Startup folder:
- In the Run dialog box (on the Start menu, or opened by typing Windows Key + R), run1 the command: “shell:startup”. This is perhaps the simplest of all.
- In the Run dialog box, run the command: “%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup”. (%APPDATA% is shorthand for “”C:\users\<login>\AppData\Roaming”, and will automatically have the correct “<login>”.)
- In the Run dialog box, run the command: “C:\users\<login>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup”.
- In Windows File Explorer, navigate to “C:\users\<login>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup,” replacing “<login>” with your Windows log-in name.
Regardless of which technique you use, the result will be a Windows File Explorer window opened on the Startup sub-menu.
As you can see, I have several things in there.
Installed programs that automatically run something on startup often place their shortcuts in that same folder. The “EvernoteClipper” shortcut you see there was added by the Evernote installation program. Windows may not display your Start menu, but the construct still has to be there for compatibility.
Creating a Startup shortcut
Once in the Startup folder in Windows File Explorer you can add a shortcut to any program (or folder2) using whatever technique you like.
One approach is to right-click in the right-hand pane, beneath any pre-existing shortcuts, and click on New, and then Shortcut.
In the resulting dialog, enter the name of the program you want to run. This name can be a full path to the program (use the Browse button to locate that file), or, in the case of many Windows internal programs, it can simply be the name of the program, as I’ve entered above: cmd, the Windows Command Prompt, in my example.
Click Next. In the next dialog, you can change the name displayed for the shortcut, if you’d like to. (Unless you’re regularly examining the contents of the Startup folder, you’ll rarely, if ever, see the shortcut name.) Click Finish.
That’s it. You now have a shortcut in the Startup folder.
And that’s the magic: any shortcut you place in the Startup folder will automatically run when you sign in to your system. All you need to do is create a shortcut in this folder to the program, batch file, script, or whatever you want to automatically run when you sign-in, and it will. In my example, a Windows Command Prompt will now open each time I sign in.
At least one special case: Task Manager
One program some people like to run automatically is Task Manager. Experience has shown that, for reasons as yet unknown, a shortcut to Task Manger (taskmgr.exe) won’t always work.
My workaround: using the technique I showed above, create a shortcut to:
cmd /c taskmgr.exe
This creates a shortcut not to Task Manager directly, but to the Windows Command Prompt. The “/c taskmgr.exe” option instructs Command Prompt to run task manager.