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How Do I Keep a Program from Loading at Startup?

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How do I keep a program that I don’t use regularly to keep from loading parts of itself into memory on start-up?

Unfortunately, this very simple question actually has a fairly complex answer.

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Check the program itself

The very first thing to do is to check options or preferences in the program itself. Many programs that have software components that run automatically when you log in or when Windows boots, will actually have an option called “Start with Windows,” “Start when computer starts,” or something to that effect. That’s a setting that you can turn off.

Very often programs will default to starting when Windows starts. After you switch the setting to off, it may require a reboot for the change to take effect.

Question the need for the program at all

The next thing to look at is, frankly, whether you really need the program on your machine. Uninstalling programs you don’t need can often be a great way to reduce startup time. Now, of course, if you do use an application from time to time, well then you’re going to have to leave it installed. I just point it out as an option that sometimes people don’t think of.

Power ButtonUse startup configuration tools

If you want to keep the program, and you can’t change the setting within the application itself, we have to get out some slightly more aggressive tools. Tools like Autoruns from Microsoft, or the great security tool, WinPatrol are both good for managing the things that get automatically started. Either of these tools will provide a list of programs broken down by components so that you can simply disable or remove those items that you’re concerned about. The list will also tell you which programs come with the option to disable automatic startup.

Now, be aware that when programs themselves don’t offer the option to disable starting with Windows, there might be a reason. You may be losing some kind of functionality by forcing the issue. In many cases, that may be okay. Many programs, to be honest, think quite highly of themselves and don’t seem to have a concept of anybody not wanting to have their software running all the time, which is just silly.

If it’s not an option, take care

A word of caution: Often some of the things that I see getting installed and running automatically are software that checks for automatic updates. If you disable this software that checks for automatic updates for a particular software package, the onus is then on you to make sure that you’re running the latest version or that you’re checking for updates yourself.

In some very rare cases, the program itself may stop working. It’s rare but it is possible that the software that you use, even occasionally, is somehow relying on this thing that’s running all the time. I don’t have an answer for you there.

Windows services

Whenever I have this discussion about things that happen at startup, and software that’s running constantly, the topic of Windows services always comes up. My advice these days is to leave them alone, particularly if you have a more recent version of Windows 7 or Windows 8.

Though certainly not perfect, Windows itself actually does a pretty good job of running only what’s needed. You can spend a lot of time futzing around with services; and what should be run, and what can’t be run, and what you want to disable and prevent from running, and so forth. The problem is that it takes a lot of time to really nail down what’s appropriate for your computer, because it does depend specifically on your machine, how it’s configured, and how you use it.

And the cost of failure is kind of high. It is very possible that by playing around with Windows services, you may disable a Windows service that you actually need, and thereby render your machine unbootable.

Then you’ve got a different problem. It’s just not worth the risk.

9 comments on “How Do I Keep a Program from Loading at Startup?”

  1. Autoruns is my go-to program for startup entrees. However, while I was learning what *not* to disable, I found that I could more safely use CCleaner’s startup options. It’s a much shorter list, and -most- of the items can be safely disabled. One thing that helps is to keep track of what you disable, so that you can re-enable things if a program you use stops working properly.
    As an aside….. One of the first things I do in Autoruns is to disable the 25 startup items for ‘Windows movie maker’. I don’t use that program, and it has 25(!!) startup entrees.
    As Leo has mentioned a time or two, remember to backup before you make system changes.

  2. I always disable all startups except the AV program and those that I have started myself – e.g. a dock or sidebar. I never had a problem.

  3. Disabling a program from starting with Windows might prevent that program from checking for an update. That might be a problem in some rare cases, but normally the program should check for updates when it’s run manually.

  4. Ideally, Windows should provide a separate tab for the non-essential programs in the Startup itself, similar to the Movie Maker, Messenger etc., for the user to disable them safely.

  5. Thanks for the helpful info Leo. However, it is a bit misleading to say Autoruns is from Microsoft when it is actually part of a utilities suite from sysinternals that was created by Mark Russinovich (see https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals). Nothing I see makes autoruns or the sysinternals suite a Microsoft product. This not to say it isn’t a valuable and useful tool. Again, thanks for the pointers on disabling unnecessary autorun programs.

    • It depends on how you want to treat things like acquisitions. Auto runs and all of sysinternals programs were acquired by Microsoft several years ago. As a result is perfectly valid to say that they are Microsoft products. After all they are downloaded from the Microsoft website.

  6. Leo,
    You did not mention the easiest way to prevent program startups.
    msconfig>Startup>make selection here.
    Am I missing something here?

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