What’s all this stuff running after I boot Windows?
When you start Windows, you’re starting much more than just the operating system. Many applications that have been installed will also have tools or utilities that start automatically when the system starts or later when you log in. And there’s a bunch of places that start-up tasks get defined; besides your programs-startup folder there are several places in the registry as well.
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Many start up tasks are necessary to carry out the things you expect your computer to do. For example, if you run MSN Messenger then chances are you’ll want it to be running as soon as the computer starts. Another important example might be virus scanning software.
However, many are not required at all. My favorite (or least favorite) examples are the Real Audio and Quick Time media players. The players themselves are fine and I use them both. However, they both also install additional tasks that are started each time you log in to Windows. In most cases they simply check for software updates, but in some cases, they also periodically present you with pop-up “messages” that, in my opinion, are really just another form of pop-up spam.
And some start up tasks we’re never really sure about until we disable them and something breaks.
Identifying what gets started when you log in has gotten a lot easier in Windows XP. A program called “MSCONFIG” is included that lists exactly what happens on startup. (Start, Run, type “MSCONFIG”, and then select the startup tab). Using MSCONFIG it’s very easy to turn off those items you don’t want starting every time.
In Windows 2000 and Windows 9x there was no embedded support but there are tools available. Sysinternals has the freeware tool autoruns that’s recently been updated to make deleting auto-start items easier. For years I ran a free download utility also called Startup Cop which was published in a PC Magazine article. Alas, the utility is no longer free as PC Magazine’s library is now subscription only, but I still recommend it. Advanced Startup Cop while also not free is another application that will help you identify and control what’s running.
So what’s safe to delete? Well, if you’re not sure it’s probably safest to leave it alone for now … BUT … for the record, I have both realsched.exe (Real Audio’s annoy-ware) and qttask.exe (Quicktime’s equivalent) disabled.
And I’ll look at how to identify the tasks running on your machine in a future post.