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.

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.

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.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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