In a recent post – “Load Programs at Startup” – I mentioned that there are several ways that programs can be started automatically and that an entry in the msconfig file is one such way. Let’s look at that in detail.

In general, the more programs your computer has open then the slower it is likely to be and the more prone to crashes and freezes. Also, the more of these that open when you start the computer, the longer the startup process takes. It makes sense, therefore, to see if there are un-necessary items that can be prevented from automatically opening when you start the computer. We are not going to delete or un-install anything: just prevent some un-ncecessary automatic opening at the time you start the computer.

Any item listed in the msconfig file with a tick against it is opened when the computer starts. Items can be added to the msconfig file as part of genuine program installations and also when you install devices such as printers. It is very common for new items to be added to the msconfig file that are just un-necessary. They make the computer slower to boot up and slower to use. Examples include Hewlett Packard programs that automatically check to see if new software has been released to use with your printer. Pointless and a waste of resources.

So, what is being loaded from mscconfig when we start the computer?

We need to access the msconfig file and this is slightly different depending the version of Windows:

  • Windows 7 – click on the windows Start button, type msconfig, and click on the “msconfig.exe” entry that is then listed.
  • Windows Vista – as for Windows 7 except that you may have to confirm that you wish to make changes to your computer
  • Windows XP – click on the Start button, then click on “run” and type “msconfig” in the box that comes up. Then click on “OK”.

Msconfig startup items

Whichever operating system you are using, you are then presented with a window in which there are tabs across the top. One of these tabs is called “startup”. Click on that tab. A list of entries is presented. There are ticks in boxes against the items that are currently being loaded at startup. To disable an item just click on the tick and it will be removed. This is a startup list under Windows 7:

In this list, you can see that I have disabled everything from “AcroTray” downwards. Note that this is one of those silly Windows that is much smaller than it needs to be to see everything, and that we can’t make it any bigger. Don’t ask me why. If I want to widen one of the columns (such as the first column, that is headed “Startup Item”) then I point my mouse at the vertical dividing line between the column headings “Startup Item” and “Manufacturer” and drag that line rightwards. Note also that after you re-boot the computer it will have re-ordered the items such that the disabled items all appear below the enabled ones.

What can we remove?

If in doubt, it’s probably best to leave an item enabled. Items that suggest updating software can usually be unticked as can references to winamp, quicktime, itunes, adobe reader and acrobat manager, HP software updates, windows messenger (unless you use it, of course). Also, items sometimes apear more than once. You can untick all duplicate items.

There’s a huge list of explanations of startup items at http://www.sysinfo.org/startuplist.php

It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of unwanted software that you didn’t knowingly install is activated via msconfig and can be easily removed by unticking the entry.

Click on the “OK” button to close msconfig. It will then tell you that a re-boot is necessary to bring the changes into effect. Note that when you re-boot after disabling items in the msconfig box it is usual for Windows to display a completely un-necessary message telling you that changes have been made. This only happens after the first re-boot following changes to msconfig.

What if we get it wrong?

We will know we’ve got it wrong if something fails to work or if we get some kind of error message. Correcting the problem is just a question of repeating the steps to access msconfig and clicking on the box next to the amended entry so that it now has a tick in it again. A re-boot is then necessary.

A web browser is a program on your own computer that connects to other computers on the worldwide web, sends and receives data, and deals with that data for you (such as presenting it on screen, saving it, printing it).

There are several different browsers, made by different companies, that do the same job. The most prominent (with links) are:

Internet Explorer logoInternet Explorer version 9 (not for XP)
Internet Explorer version 8 (for XP)

 

Firefox logoMozilla Firefox

 

Chrome logoGoogle Chrome

 

Safari logoSafari

 

There is also the AOL browser that is only used by AOL subscribers. AOL subscribers can also use any of the other browsers.

So what’s the difference between them? Not a great deal. Pushed to name the best feature of each, I would suggest:

Internet Explorer – automatic security updates via Microsoft update (that also keeps your Windows updated)
Mozilla Firefox – huge range of add-ons (plugins)
Chrome – fast
Safari – built by Apple, so has the look and feel of a Mac
AOL – er…

Unlike security software (antivirus, other antimalware, and firewalls) you can have as many browsers on your computers as you wish. They do not conflict with each other.

Plugins

Browsers originally dealt with text and images but they can now also handle a variety of types of multimedia (eg video). A lot of this functionality is provided by the addition of specialised programs called “plugins” and “add-ons”.

For instance, you are probably familiar with Adobe Flash Player. This is an extra program, installed separately from your browser, that gives you the ability to watch videos etc directly from your browser. If we didn’t have what Flash Player does then we would probably need to download our video to our computer and then open up a different program to view it. Flash Player allows us to view it within our browser window and also allows us to “stream” the content. “Streaming” means that we are watching the video as it is delivered to our browser, rather than having to save it all first before starting to watch it.

There are many, many other plugins that we can add directly into our browser. I use one on Firefox called Adblock Plus. This does a very good job of removing ads from most websites. It’s available for Firefox and Chrome.

Updates

If your browser tells you that there is an update available and suggests that you download it then I would recommend doing so. This is because at least part of the update is likely to involve improved security for your browser. Remember that the browser’s job is to communicate with other computers, passing data to and from your own machine. This is precisely the area where people with bad intent will try to exploit weaknesses. Therefore, it is important that as soon as a flaw in your browser is discovered and rectified, you should incorporate that rectification as soon as possible by updating your browser.

As far as updating plugins is concerned, you probably often see nagging screens advising you to update Adobe Flash Player. Annoying though they are, I would suggest complying as the update may very well be to do with security. Likewise, if you see nagging messages about updating Java then I would comply for the same reason (Java is powerful programming installed on your own computer that websites call upon to add bells and whistles to their web pages).

Default Browser

If you have more than one browser installed then opening one up may cause a message to be displayed along the lines of “SuperDuper browser is not currently your default browser. Make it the default?”

The “default browser” is the one that loads up when a browser is called for, but none has been specified. Suppose, for instance, that you have a web page saved on your computer. This will probably be an “html” file. If you double-click on that file then your operating system looks for the “default program” (in this case a “default browser”) to open that file.

Obviously, there is only one “default browser” and the message above (when you start the SuperDuper browser) is really no more than your SuperDuper browser screaming “me, me, me” at you. It thinks it’s the most important browser in the universe and that it’s doing you a favour by suggesting that it should be the default browser instead of the one that you currently have as the default.

You can always change your default browser by opening up the one that you wish to be the default. If it doesn’t automatically scream at you to make it the default then look for the option to change the settings. There is bound to be a setting somewhere to make that browser the default.

Wikipedia defines a website thus:

A website (also written Web site or simply site) is a collection of related web pages containing images, videos or other digital assets . . . A web page is a document, typically written in plain text interspersed with formatting instructions of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML, XHTML)

We have all seen the power of websites develop over the years. Originally they were intended just as a method of disseminating text and pictures. They now include programming that allows sophisticated two-way interaction between the site and the user. We now take it for granted that we can access and change our records in databases such as those containing our electricity accounts or our banking information. We can view TV and videos, chat with each other, and so on. As you would expect, this flexibility comes at a price and the price is the complexity of the design process. Despite adverts to the contrary, a complete novice is very very unlikely to be satisfied with a website that they’ve managed to get online in just a few hours. Web design and creation is a complicated business.

Wikipedia defines a blog thus:

A blog (a blend of the term web log) is a type of website or part of a website. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. Most blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments…..

So, a blog is a particular type of website – one where the important aspect is that the author can write regular content. The emphasis is on being able to get the content onto the web with the minimum of technical fuss. This is great for authors writing regular text articles who don’t want the technology to get in the way of publishing the material. The articles are generally published one after another and accessed by the site visitor either chronologically (eg all the articles – known as “posts” – for Feb 2011) or by typing keywords into a search box (eg all the articles that mention the word “backups”). As well as the facility to leave comments, another great feature of blogs is that the website author(s) can create a “newsletter” service for subscribers so that as new blog posts are published they are automatically sent as emails to the subscribers. I offer this on my own site – see the box on this page.

Over the years the software for creating blogs has grown more flexible (or “more complicated”, if you prefer). For instance, one of the most popular systems for creating blogs is WordPress. Lots of people write freely obtainable fancy bits of programming to add to WordPress. These bells and whistles are called “plugins” and they enhance the power of the software. On my own site, for instance, I use a plugin that allows me to have different background images on different pages. All of these bells and whistles mean that the flexibility of blog design software has grown. It is now quite possible to satisfy all of the needs of an entire website with blog software alone. Note that blog sites are also sometimes described or defined as “Content Management Systems”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_management_system for a fuller description/definition of CMS.

There are many advantages in having a blog and a website as part of the same site. These include:

  • greater visibility to search engines such as Google
  • less to learn to get get a system up and running
  • easier to maintain
  • much more content for visitors – whether they are initially interested in the blog or the more “static” pages of a website
  • a likely increase in the number of pages each visitor views on the site

All of this leads me very neatly into being able to plug my own site. Until recently I had separate website and blog at different web addresses, written with different technologies, looking different from each other, and gaining different sets of visitors looking for different things. I have now combined these by re-writing both into the WordPress Content Managment System. WordPress is a free “cloud” system – ie you do not install WordPress on your own computer, but do all of the development via the web. This has the distinct advantage of not having to buy any software to develop your system but I’ll risk looking a gifthorse in the mouth by saying that I find it rather tedious doing this development work “in the cloud” as it does tend to slow things down a bit. That aside, I do recommend WordPress to anyone considering developing a content management system. Your first port of call would be http://wordpress.org/.

Combining a blog with a website can cause confusion. Judging from the feedback I’ve had this week, I’m guilty of this, so, until I can find a better way of doing things, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that my own blog is the content that appears on the top righthand side of all the pages on my site. the blog can be accessed from the box that looks like this:
Blog widget

The four clickable headings at the top of the box are very typical of what you will see on many blogs so I will explain each one:

Recent Posts – is a list of the most recent posts that I have written. When the “Recent Posts” option is highlighted (or when that button is clicked), the titles of the most recent posts appear in chronological order (eg “Cloud Computing”, “Telephone Scam”). If you click on any of these titles you are taken directly to the post with that title.

Recent Comments
– is a list of the most recent comments with links (where available) to the author and links to the comments themselves.

Blog Post Archive
lists the months in which blogs were posted. Clicking on any of these causes a long scrollable screen of the contents of all the blog posts for the chosen month.

Tag Cloud is a bit jargony. It shows the most-used keywords that are included in the blog posts. The bigger it appears in this “cloud” the more often the keyword appears. Clicking on any word in the clouds brings up a scrollable list of all the blogs containing that word.

The pages of my website, on the other hand, are accessed via the menu that appears across the top of the screen. This is also repeated on the righthand side in the box entitled “Web Pages”.

Pages menu

or
Web pages widget
So, if you are thinking of having your own website and/or blog soon, it is well worth considering carefully what you are trying to achieve before deciding whether the format that would suit you best is a more traditional “website” approach or the newer “content management system” (“blog”) approach. Whichever approach you take is likely to involve a fair amount of time and/or money and I can tell you from experience that you probably won’t want to change your chosen web technology for quite a while after committing to something. For what it’s worth, my guess is that Content Management Systems (such as WordPress) are the way to go in the foreseeable future.

In Windows, there are several ways in which a program can be set to start automatically when the system is started. These include:

  • An entry in the Startup folder
  • An entry in the msconfig file
  • An entry in the registry

Today, we are only interested in adding or removing items from the Startup folder. We are definitely not going to touch the registry. You should not touch the registry unless you have an idea of the risks involved. You could render your entire computer unusable if you get it wrong.

So, an example of what we are interested in here is that you may wish to open Microsoft Word and your email program automatically whenever you switch on your computer.

The way that we do this is to add shortcuts for each of those programs in the “Startup” folder. These shortcuts will then be executed when Windows opens in the same way as if they had been manually opened.

First we need to open the shortcuts folder:

  • Click on the start button (bottom lefthand corner of screen)
  • Click on the “All programs” option
  • Look through the list for a yellow folder labelled “Startup”
  • Right-click (that’s a right-click, not the normal left-click) on this folder name and then left-click on the “open” command. This will open a window showing all the items that are currently in the startup folder.

Now we need to add a shortcut in the opened folder that points to the program we want to load:

There are two different ways we can do this:

Via the Start Button

  • Click on the Start button
  • Click on “All Programs”
  • Left-click on the program you wish to add to the startup folder and drag it to the opened “Startup” window. Dragging means using the mouse to move the cursor to the destination, while holding down the left mouse button.
  • When your cursor is in the Startup folder, release the left button. There is now a shortcut in the Startup folder.
  • Close the Startup folder in the usual way by clicking on the “X” in the top right-hand corner

.

Via the Desktop

  • Right-click on the desktop item and then left-click on “create shortcut”. You will then see a second item on the desktop with the same icon as the first.
  • Drag the new shortcut into the open Startup window.
  • Close the Startup folder in the usual way by clicking on the “X” in the top right-hand corner.

There is also a third way of finding the program so that you can create a shortcut from it, and that is to open the “Program Files” folder and search from there. This is usually located in c:\program files (accessed from the “My Computer” or “Computer” icon).

One thing to be careful of is that you are looking for a program icon with the correct name and not a folder of the same name. For instance, you can see in this example that I have a folder called “CD-LabelPrint”:

Folder list

If I create a shortcut of the folder and place it in Startup it means that the folder will open up automatically when I start the computer but the program will not launch. It is perfectly legitimate to automatically open a folder in this way but it is not what I wanted to do.

What I should have done is clicked on the folder called “CD-LabelPrint” and then created the shortcut from the program of the same name (as shown below).

Folder and file list

We can extend this somewhat by adding that if you always want to open a specific document when you start your computer (for instance, a particular Excel worksheet or Word document), then you can create a shortcut to that document and place it in the Startup folder. When you start the computer, the program that normally opens that document will be launched and it will open the document whose shortcut is in the Startup folder.

Finally, you can remove items from the startup folder by just deleting them. This will not delete the programs, just the shortcut that you placed in the folder.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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