Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

What’s all this stuff running after I boot Windows?

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.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

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.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

46 comments on “What’s all this stuff running after I boot Windows?”

  1. “In Windows 2000 and Windows 9x, there was no embedded support, but there are tools available.”

    If I understand you correctly, are you saying that msconfig.exe is not available in those versions of Windows? If so, then I would have to disagree. I have used msconfig in both Win98 and WinXP. It is not available in Win2k and Win95, though.

  2. Not sure if anyone can help me, but I need to disable wizards for both adaware and pop-up stoppers that appear during every single start up of my pc. They appeared after I downloaded a fileshare program through kazaa and so far I think I’ve tried absolutely EVERYTHING to get rid of them. Have Windows 2000, so unable to run msconfig. Any ideas? :(

  3. whenever i login to my use account in my network, my computer using windows2000NT shows a popup message reg678.dll missing. How to solve this problem?
    Moreover, when i login IE automatically opens up. How to stop it. If i remove from startup, can i use IE after i login. Most of time when i login it fails to run the network script and i am not able to acess the net via my organisation network. I need to boot again and it takes two three trials to get it done. how to fix it.
    thax for ur help in advance

  4. I regularly check what’s running at start up and ADWATCH informs me of any attempted changes (although it’s not always clear whether I should allow the change), but what is PREFETCH and how do I control what goes in there?

  5. hi i am running windows 2000 professional on my computer the computer is working fine but of late i am having the following problem thatis
    while the computer is on and runnning the computer will suddenly restart and when it restart it will work fine for a couple of minutes or so say like 3 to 5 minutes or even longer then suddenly it will restart
    i do no twaht is the problem
    can some one please help
    thank you

  6. when i am closing down my pc. when it gets to the stage where is say’s saving your setting it sometimes takes over an hour to shut down..any thoughts on this matter…cheers alan

  7. It depends on the version of Windows. This is typically a driver problem under WIndows 9x. I’d make sure your drivers are as up to date as possible.

  8. Hello Leo.

    I have a “rogue” execution of MSIEXEC running at windows XP start-up, plus also when I insert a disk, be it software or audio disk. Recently, I tried to update OFFICE 2K and the installer seemed to get stuck. After things finally stopped happening, I had about (no lie) 100 IE windows open. So, I am thinking that this instance of MSIEXEC is from that busted install attempt. There are no active parameters passed with it, so it doesn’t SEEM dangerous, but it certainly IS ANNOYING !

    Any ideas, Leo ?


  9. With 100 IE’s I’d be more suspicious of spyware or a virus myself. I’d start with an up-to-date scan for both. Then I’d also run the system file checker.

  10. Ok, Leo. I have run both Virus-scans and spyware scans (thru Ad-Aware and SpyBot), but I am not sure where to run the “System File Checker” from.

    As far as what it’s asking for, or trying to install, I don’t know how to explain this. If I put an audio CD in the CDR drive, the “Windows Installer” dialog opens up automatically, along with the “Windows Media Player”. The installer displays the message “preparing to install…” and the install status bar fills in. Once the bar is full, the install attempt finishes (having done nothing), because there are no actual parameters being passed. The audio CD will play normally through the WMP instance that opened at the same time. So… I am thinking that there is a setting SOMEWHERE that whenever a disc is placed in the CDR, it will attempt to run the MSIEXEC. Also, on a software CD, it does the same thing, but usually, the AUTORUN on the software CD will run as well, as expected.

    Once this “dummy” install finishes, it REMAINS as a started task and sits in the Task Manager. I want to be rid of this stupid thing, but without affecting it’s normal intended function. I just don’t know enough technically to fix this.

    Hope this helps to explain it better.


  11. Leo,

    Sorry, I’m not understanding what you mean by “look at all the other loactions and use the tools mentioned in the article”? (Tools meaning the ones listed at the beginning of this page? What other locations; I already looked in the Start up folder and MSConfig.) Would you please elaborate? Thanks!

  12. The article that you’re commenting on references several tools: msconfig being one you’ve run, autoruns being another that lists several things that msconfig may not. I’d look in there for suspicious items. “My Documents” can result from blank or error entries in any of those locations. Autoruns can also save the information for someone to look at. (If you need me to look at, use the “Ask Leo” link below, and be sure to refernece your comments here … you can paste the autoruns saved information into the form as well.)

  13. Leo,

    Great article! As far as what is required in your msconfig/startup-tab, there is an excellent discussion of this at

    To summarize, the only startup items that you absolutely need are ScanRegistry, TaskMonitor, SystemTray, LoadPowerProfile, and your anti-virus software.

  14. how come when i start xp i have 6 svchost.exe running; 4 system, 1 local, and 1 network… i dont see why it would need 4 system users. is there a way to set msconfig to only be-able to run just 1?

  15. my xp computer was recently attacked my several viruses…i was not able to totally clean it up with norton’s…i then decided to reinstall windows xp for the manufacturer’s disk…all seemed ok until i discovered that my computer would start up automatically when it was connected to the internet from my router…when not connected to the internet it would stay shut down..i then decided to upgrade my os to windows xp professional to see what would happen…and sure enough my computer is still starting up automatically when it is conected to the internet…what do you recommend?

  16. Hi,

    I was looking to lighten up the load on my pc by removing a few startup processes.

    I used Spybot Search&Destroy to identify the processes, but it didn’t identify all of them.

    I removed a few, and I have the bad feeling that I erased some important startup dll, because now my music plays broken up whenever disk access increases to anything but idle.

    Do you know if there is indeed a dll file that prevents music playback breakup when disk access is increased?

    I looked through MSCONFIG and all start ups are currently active, however, i fear that spybot may have erased some of the reg entries.

    Any help with this is greatly appriciated. Thanks.


  17. i have yahoo messanger 6.o running of XP home it had been working fine but in the last 3 months every once in a while now the keyboard reacts very slow in the pm messanger window and chat room window. (works fine in all other apps) Before clearing cache and temp files resolved it but now nothing i do resloves it . I have run virus scan, uninstalled and reinstalled the program.. please advise

  18. good article Leo – simple and to the point. It also raises many more questions though, naturally. Questions such as, do these automated startup programs effect the loading or operation of wanted programs? How does a person remove or disable a Microsoft program that isnt wanted without effecting other software? etc etc. It would be good to hear your thoughts on those questions too. Once again top little article.

  19. I have an interesting problem that I cant seem to find an answer too. My PC is an XP home OS with a 3gig P4, 1 gig of RAM and 256MB Vid Card. I use the PC mainly for photo editing but also play the Sims and GP4. Recently both those games keep closing themselves down for no apparent reason. I have replaced my RAM, run diagnostics on my Vid Card and CPU and my system is running well below the supposed max temps, system and CPU temps. Is it possible my M/B is fading? If not can you suggest a reason for this happening ?

  20. T Cannon: unfortunately there’s no blanket answer to any of that. It really depends on the specifics of each program you’re concerned about, as well as the specifics of what you want out of your system and how you use it.

  21. ok…the processes you dont need to have running after starting ur pc can all be end using the task manager. simply press ctrl + alt + delete and end every task it allows you to end except explorer.exe (thats ur windows basicaly) that does the trick. PS: if ever you end explorer.exe just go new task and type “explorer.exe” and it will reload.

    Hash: SHA1

    Depends entirely on the error message you’re getting from OE.

    I’m assuming that you triple checked the account configuration with
    Sympatico. 9 times out of 10 it’s a typo in the configuration that
    causes this type of problem.

    My *guess* based on zero additional information, though, is that it’s
    next most commonly a firewall issue. If you have some kind of firewall
    or internet security suite on the new machine, perhaps that’s blocking

    Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)


  23. As a tip, I found from another website that if you copy the msconfig.exe file from a WinXP machine to a Win2k pc (Winnt\sys32 folder), you can run the msconfig command from your command prompt just like in XP and get your startup items just the same! :)

  24. I have been having an issue with some kind of spyware that automatically starts IE in a loop. I used MSconfig and eventually now the process does not start since I start my Windows with the “Load Startup Items” disabled.

    Anyways, now I want to try and download the real IE and install it. I tried IE 7 – it tool forever and after two reboots and a cancelled install – I tried to go back to IE 6. But now IE 6 installer says I already have the a higher version of IE and so I cant install IE 6. When I go to the higher version of IE 7 – it shows me the same symptoms (broken images.) I then tried to go into the C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer and manually delete the iexplore.exe. But I can not delete these files! When I delete them, the files iexplore.exe and hmmapi.dll, magically reappear in this directory within seconds.
    Do you have any idea how to fix this? I want to have the ability to use IE – I use mozilla but it does not work on youtube videos but that is a different story.

    Thanx for your help!

  25. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for your time. I have an unusual problem. After installing the new version of COMODO AntiSpam, since removed, every time I start up the PC IE7 automatically opens and loads the ‘downoad’ page for the new COMODO AntiSpam.

    1. I have run Remove Run Once with no effect.
    2. I have tried restore [back one month] with no effect.
    3. I have tried an XP clean boot but not changed the situation.
    4. I have run msconfig, system informastion and regedit but cannot locate a ‘key’ or link that would cause IE7 to auto start and load the COMODO page once the PC is up and running.

    5. I have run ‘Autoruns’ and not found a link to COMODO AntiSpam in IE7?

    Can you help me – talk me through- the process of locating the ‘link’ or file – command – registry key that cause this to happen and remove it.

    I have send an Email to COMODO but not yet resolved the situation.

    All other COMODO products run well and have no problems.

    With thanks for your time and help,

    Keith Harris

  26. Somehow I lost my Microsoft Outlook 2003 pst files. I did the search, which you recommended, and included the hidden files. It did find something. However, when I try to open Microsoft Outlook, it still says that C:….outlook.pst is a not personal files folder. What can I do next?

    Thank you.


  27. When I tried to download the XP Service Pack 3 update, my computer crashed. I guess the “blue screen” of death came on (what our IT people call it), and said that I needed to quit this application if this is the first time I’ve seen this message and reboot. When I rebooted it went back and restored everything to original, thank goodness, but now what do I do? Also, when I want to shut down, it always says “install updates and shut down?, which I say no to everytime. It is annoying.


    Thank you.


  28. Hi Leo, Iv’e used “WinPatrol” for years will handle program starts and delay programs + host of other things. A gem. Everyone should have it.
    Hello from New Zealand to all your readers.

  29. I am having the same problem , Having restored my computer to the original factory settings all is well with the exception of system 32 appearing every time i boot the computer up. As i am an aged newbie I am reluctant go ito the registry without knowing how to back up my computer. This a Hp pavilion t650uk running Windows XP home.
    Any help would be most appreciated
    Thank You

    You don’t know how to backup? PLEASE LEARN! Seriously, for so many reasons, everything on your computer could be lost in an instant with a hardware failure. If you’re not backed up, it’s could be lost forever.

    You can back up the registry before making a change simply by making a system restore point.

    – Leo
  30. Hi Leo, I am currently experiencing difficulties with my Disk defragmenter, it asks to start CHDSK and SCANDISK. I have cleaned the registry, cleaned my Desktop, hard drive with CCleaner and done practically everything I know of to help my PC performance. Please note that I am only 14..I know you may think pretty young, but not stupid. I am learning Visual Basic and java languages in hopes to create applications sometime. For that I need a good computer. Any help appreciated. My specs: Nvidia NForce 9800 GTX+, 2.40 GHZ, 2.78GB Ram, SP3. I only need it to improve my PC. Thanks,

    Stefan Petro

  31. The problem with MSCONFIG and similar is that they need administrator rights to run. In itself, not a problem (apart from the time lost in logging out and then logging back in again with addministrator rights), BUT they are not going to find things that are tied to your normal login, e.g. the infamous “Documents and Settings”, HKCU in the registry.

    Tools like autoruns should do that.


  32. trying to open a program but the pc is saying The program is already running i closed and reopened my pc but its still saying the same thng

  33. @Siou
    That is a problem which sometimes happens when some components of a program are running, but the user interface is not active.
    When you get a message saying that the program is already running, you can shut it down by running the Task Manager (ctrl+shift+esc), clicking the Processes tab, scrolling down to the offending program and clicking the End Process button.

  34. Autoruns from Sysinternals, mentioned in the article. is a great tool, but since this article was written, the Task Manager (CTRL+SHIFT+ESC), included with Windows is sufficient for finding most startup programs. I only use Autoruns on those rare occasions when Task manager isn’t enough.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.