Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

What should be in my Startup folder?

I have been asked many times, “just what should be in my Startup folder … and what is “bad” and should not be there?” People want to clean out their Startups and regain the speed they had when their machine was new, but are often afraid of doing damage by removing the wrong thing.

That is a legitimate concern — I’ve had to reinstall Windows a few times by being a little too quick on the delete. (That was in my younger, more reckless and foolish days. One time back in the Windows 95 era, I needed more room on my 4GB hard drive and I decided that since I didn’t know what .dll files were, and the “Date last used” were months and months ago, that I would delete them all. I deleted some of those strangely-named  .sys files too. That was how I learned about FDISK and boot floppies. Some of us learn by doing.) You do want to use caution when deleting in some areas, but your Startup folder only contains shortcuts (links) and so you will not do irreparable harm by deleting in there.

Tip of the day: Understanding and streamlining your Startup folder. I wrote a fairly popular article entitled “My Startup folder is a clown car” which explains the basics of doing something about controlling which programs load themselves during the Windows boot sequence. I very much recommend that you take a minute and review it (by clicking the blue link). And I wrote a follow-up answer on a method for removing “stubborn” applications (and suggested a free startup manager) in the bottom third of this article, which won’t take you but a minute to review.

The first thing to understand is that Windows has at least two Startup folders, and more likely 4 to 7. Surely you have installed a program and it asked you during the setup whether you wanted to allow “everyone” or “just me” to use it? That’s because it wants to know which environment to place itself — a global profile, or just your User Account’s Programs and Startup folders. Below is a screenshot of the Documents and Settings folder on one of my testbed machines.
This shows my current user profiles, which are stored like everything else, in folders. Each of these has at least one Startup folder. This is how computers can keep different user’s settings, and files, and screensavers, and installed programs, and everything else separate. (If you think about this, it makes sense — I do not want to see my imaginary, smart-as-a-whip son “Charlie’s” X-Men desktop when I’m working. And I don’t want him seeing {and deleting?} my business presentation’s Power Point slides.) When you install a program and choose “everyone”, it installs itself into the All Users profile. When “Charlie” installs Zantor XVII, More Villains to Slay, it all goes into the Charlie folder.

Acrobat Reader, QuickTime, and all those other hard-to-remove annoyances? Look in the All Users’ Startup folder … if you only remove the pest from your profile (The “Terry” folder in this case) it will still load at boot: “Terry” is part of “All”. It must be removed from both profile’s Startup folders. Open My Computer, double-click the Local Disk (usually “C:”),  then open Documents and Settings >All Users >Start Menu >Programs >Startup. Now you can delete the annoyance’s shortcut and stop it for good … or until it gets put back in again.

Now that we’re in the All Users Startup folder, let me answer the “what should/shouldn’t I see there?” question (as best I can). The answer is there’s no specific list you can compare to. There simply are too many products, and the possible combinations approach the infinite — but, I can tell you this: there should only be 3-6 icons there. These include your firewall, your antivirus and antivirus definitions updater, your anti-spyware if it has an “active shielding” component (or maybe just one, if you have a protection “suite”), and maybe a few utilities your machine needs to communicate like a soft-fax or USB wireless networking adapter. There may be a few others that you’ll decide you want, but this really should be a lean folder — there’s no reason for Acrobat to be there.

As usual, I suggest if you see something there and you have no idea what it is, or what it does, I suggest you use your favorite search engine to find out before you delete it. Because experience has taught me — just because it’s strangely-named, doesn’t mean I don’t need it!

Addenda 8/6: A couple of readers have asked if they couldn’t just delete the All Users folder? No … unless you want to learn about FDISK and boot floppies, and reinstalling Windows.

Today’s free link: in future articles I’m going to talk a little about the Office Suite of programs — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook — as this collection of tools is the most familiar to the most people. But did you know that there’s a practically identical Office Suite that’s 100% free? Thanks to the Open Source movement, you can learn about, and download it here.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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August 2, 2007 Posted by | advice, anti-spyware, antivirus, computers, file system, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | 5 Comments