Tech – for Everyone

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

Manage Startup programs in Vista

Tip of the day: Speed up and optimize your Vista machine by managing which programs load when Vista boots, and eliminate unnecessary background tasks in one simple step.

I know.. I know. I have never started an article with the “tip of the day”, and I promise I won’t make a habit of it. It’s just when you write six-days-a-week, you need to shake things up a little– every now and then –just to keep from getting stale.

One of my earliest “optimization” articles, My Startup folder is a clown car, has also proven over time to be one of the more popular “how to’s” I have posted. It describes removing program shortcuts from the Startup folder as a method for making Windows boot up faster (which has the added benifit of reducing ‘background’ use of CPU cycles). This technique is applicable to XP (and older) versions of Windows.

In a different article, I answered a reader question and described another method for managing Startup programs: the built-in msconfig tool. This method works on all versions of Windows, including Vista. The msconfig tool is authoritative and effective, but it has an annoying side-effect of opening a little dialogue window –each boot-up– that tells you it has done its job and “blocked” programs from starting. (Yes, msconfig. I know. I told you to. Remember? Sheeze.) Today’s method avoids that annoyance.

Tip of the day: Use Windows Defender to stop unwanted programs from loading at startup.
Vista comes with Microsoft’s anti-spyware program, “Windows Defender” installed; and Defender* has a tool built into it called “Software Explorer” which allows you select whether a program loads during the boot process (start-up). To see the list of what is currently loading, open Defender by clicking Start >Programs, and click on Windows Defender. When Defender opens, click on the “Tools” gray gear icon.

Now click on the “Software Explorer” hyperlink, and be patient while your hard drive is scanned and the list of programs “populates”. Make sure the “Category” is set to “Startup Programs” (the default).

You may be surprised at just how many programs, or bits of programs, have managed to work their way into your Startup, and you may be tempted to get aggressive and start turning them off with reckless abandon. My advice in this area has to be somewhat general, but I would not turn off anything with “update” in its name. Also, if you’re simply not sure what something is, there will be a description in the right-hand pane of whatever item is ‘selected’ (single-click) in the left-hand pane.. which should help you decide. Be very conservative when dealing with Windows’ services (as in leave them alone).

In the screenshot above, I have ‘selected’ a program called “Reality Fusion Tray Application”, which happily installed itself when I hooked up a webcam. (It is supposed to be some “cool” thing for online gaming.. I guess.) Not only does this useless (to me, anyway) service slow down my boot, but it puts one more icon in my already over-crowded Notification Area. It’s gotta go!

Select the item you want to prevent from automatically starting (at boot time) — Reality Fusion in my example– by clicking once on it. Then click on the “Disable” button in the lower-right. Repeat this process for all the programs you wish to “un-automate”.
The next time you boot up your computer, these programs will not launch automatically, and you will have a leaner, meaner, faster machine.

If for some reason you experience any future troubles or odd behaviors because of these actions, simply open Defender and “Enable” the program/service again.

See also Get A Faster “Boot up” Time With Startup Delayer

*Free link of the day: For those of you who aren’t running Vista, Microsoft offers Windows Defender as a free download.

Copyright 2007-2008 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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January 11, 2008 - Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows | , , , , ,


  1. I would like to thin out my Start Up Programs but I have subscribed to Windows Live OneCare and when you have that Defender is turned off. Is it OK to turn it back on again to look at the Start Up Programs or is there another way of accessing them?



    Comment by Gemius | January 15, 2008 | Reply

  2. Gemius–
    The two links provided in the article (to prior articles) will show you how to delete program shortcuts from your Startup folder(s) [for XP], and use the msconfig tool [all versions]… respectively.
    The “today’s free link:” section of the article posted today (coincidentally) was AutoRuns, which is the best tool for tracking down programs that are part of the boot process.

    Another option is to use a 3rd-party tool to manage your Startup. Some Security Suites and System Mechanic-type suites will include such a tool as well.
    (Regular readers may have already downloaded the very handy CCleaner, which has this ability also.)

    Poke around in the “Utilities” (or “Tools”) area of these types of suites. You may very well find a Startup Manager already on your machine!


    Comment by techpaul | January 15, 2008 | Reply

  3. Thanks for the helpful info. Question, Can anything be done when the “Disabe” button is not highlighted/ unpressable?
    Please advise


    Comment by abu | March 24, 2008 | Reply

    • I had that problem too. When I clicked on All Users, it enabled the Disable button


      Comment by MA | March 7, 2010 | Reply

      • MA,
        Yes, that is the trick. Some items get installed under “Let Anyone use..” (aka “all users”), while others may be User Account specific.


        Comment by techpaul | March 7, 2010 | Reply

  4. Abu–
    Your programs listed in Defender’s tools Software Explorer should be ‘clickable’, and why they aren’t may indicate a few issues.. for which I would need to ask you some questions.
    However, the link to prior articles contained (above) are alternative methods for managing which programs load at boot (Startup).
    And.. you can use a Startup Manager application/tool. If you have followed my advice and downloaded CCleaner, it has one. Your Security Suite might have one.. or you may want to find and download your own.


    Comment by techpaul | March 24, 2008 | Reply

  5. why my toshiba a215 s7462 very2 slow to load windows vista?? thk’s


    Comment by Whawied | July 5, 2008 | Reply

  6. Whawied–

    Possible reasons:
    1) malware infection
    2) Too many programs set to launch at startup.
    3) File fragmentaion (see my article on defragmenting your hard drive)
    4) about 25 other things..

    Has it always been slow? Did you install a new program and now it’s slow? Has it gotten slower over time? Do you surf to websites containing “questionable content”?
    The first thing I would look at it is a possible malware (spyware/virus/adware) infestation.


    Comment by techpaul | July 5, 2008 | Reply

  7. I noticed in your article Adobe was permitted. I don’t want it there but CANNOT remove it…(same goes for Google task bar) do you remove unwanted programs when the REMOVE button is greyed out?


    Comment by AtomicGlow | September 5, 2008 | Reply

  8. AtomicGlow–
    That is why I usually try to avoid Adobe at all costs (I use Foxit Reader).. they’re just so insistant on being instantly available.. and I run across PDF’s maybe.. oh, say, once a month.
    Some programs are just darned difficult to turn off.

    “Grayed out” usually means you don’t have the “privellege level” sufficient to make those change. Make sure you’re running the app (in this case, Defender) As an Administrator. Right-click on the program’s icon, and select “Run as Administrator”.

    When you run across this problem, you can use another utility which has the block Startup programs capability– CCleaner has this, as does WinPatrol, and many others..

    Removing stubborn start up programs: If the methods I described in “My Startup folder is a clown car” proved insufficient for getting rid of a really determined program, there are two more methods you can try. The first is msconfig, and the second is editing the Registry.
    Start by opening the msconfig utility. Click Start >Run and type in “msconfig” (no quotes), and then click on the Startup tab. Here you will see a list of the programs scheduled to start when Windows boots. Uncheck the checkbox next to the program you are having the troubles with. You will need to restart your system for the changes to take effect.

    The second method, editing the Registry, is for advanced users who are comfortable treading in such risky waters. Changes made to the Registry are immediate, and there’s no “undo” feature. First use the aforementioned methods and please consider simply using Add/Remove Programs to “retire” the troublesome program altogether.


    Comment by techpaul | September 5, 2008 | Reply

  9. The disable button not being clickable has something to do with administrator permissions. In vista you arent’ given full access to change stuff even when running as an administrator. You have to make an additional step for some programs. Click on the “Show for All Users” button, it will give you a UAC prompt. Once you accept the prompt you will be able to disable the grayed out programs.


    Comment by jgoto | October 1, 2008 | Reply

  10. Wow! How user friendly are you! thank you so much this is exactly what I need.


    Comment by jacquetta | February 11, 2009 | Reply

    • Thank you, Jaquetta. You made my day.


      Comment by techpaul | February 11, 2009 | Reply

  11. Ok does anyone know how to stop programs from starting up in only one profile. I want programs to startup with windows when i log into one porifle, but if I or soemone else logs into another profile those programs dont start up, and maybe some other ones do. Anytime i put a program into the start folder first I need the Admin account’s password to do it, and then it adds it to all the profiles start folder which i dont want. Anytime i tell a prgram not to run, or change its classifcation again this effects all users. What ever happened to indpependt profiles, what is the point of having different profiles if its all going to start up the same any ways???

    Can anyone help me???


    Comment by jsobczak | March 16, 2009 | Reply

    • Vista uses different paths, and is a bit different than XP/older in handling the user profiles.

      The path in Vista is C:\Users\user name\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

      Deleting, or adding, a (shortcut to) program here should not affect other profiles.

      {note: In the Home editions, many things are inaccessible (directly) to the user/owner.. such as a the Group Policy editor, and the Administrator user profile. Access is enabled in Ultimate, and Business editions.}


      Comment by techpaul | March 16, 2009 | Reply

  12. which program should keep enable?


    Comment by ellie | May 2, 2009 | Reply

    • ellie–
      Each computer – and each user – is different. There is no Standard Answer, except “that depends”.

      As a General Rule, though, you want to be quite conservative with your trimming. Most programs are in the list for a reason, and should stay there. Your security programs (firewall, antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-spam, etc.) and any program update checker, for example.

      Some people want their Instant Messenger to load right away, others don’t. (As an example of ‘user choice’)

      Programs (and services) you don’t recognize should probably be left alone.

      I know this probably wasn’t the answer you were looking for, but I cannot see your list of startups, and I don’t know how you use your machine, so I can’t say, “get rid of that, and that, and that.” But I hope I helped in a general way. I can also say that most Techs (myself included) do this as part of a basic “Optimization” service.


      Comment by techpaul | May 2, 2009 | Reply

  13. i took a screenshot of my problem. the program i want to get rid of is in actuality an incompatible program that i installed, saw was incompatible, and uninstalled. however i keep on getting a “program failed to start” screen at each boot. it’s simply annoying for me to have to clock on a button everytime i boot up my laptop. where can i send the image of the screenshot, or what free webhosting solution do u prefer i put it on?


    Comment by JoonBoi | May 26, 2009 | Reply

    • JoonBoi,
      It’s not critical that I see your screenshot…
      1) Download CCleaner and run the Registry tool.
      If that doesn’t cleanup the leftovers…
      2) Download Revo Uninstaller, and use it to uninstall the program (use Moderate Mode first).


      Comment by techpaul | May 26, 2009 | Reply

  14. If the “Disable” button is not clickable, try clicking the “All Users” button to refresh the startup list. Doing this allowed me to remove the program from startup.


    Comment by Buddy | August 18, 2009 | Reply

  15. […] you are using the Vista operating system, here is a very good resource I found to explain how to stop unnecessary […]


    Pingback by Eliminate Unnecessary Startup Programs in Vista « PowerUp! Blog | August 26, 2009 | Reply

  16. Have any more tips to drastically speed up Vista?


    Comment by jlaw | September 9, 2009 | Reply

    • jlaw,
      This will make a great “reader question” article; but I will give you the short version here.

      The steps for “speeding up” a Windows computer are pretty much the same regardless of the name:
      1) Add RAM
      2) Keep it lean and mean (the less stuff on your hard drive, the better – remove programs you don’t use: offload your ‘archives’ to removable media: reduce the apps in the startup folder (this article).
      3) Keep it in “fighting trim” by emptying the trash and keeping the file system “defragged” (see, Revitalize and Protect Your PC With Windows’ Utilities)
      4) Upgrade your components. Usually my advice here on Vista machines is to simply add a graphics card, but if your machine is older, you may want to be more extensive– like upgrading to a dual core.
      5) Turn off the “bells and whistles”. In Vista, this typically boils down to turning off the pretty Aero graphics effects, and turning off the Search Indexing service.


      Comment by techpaul | September 9, 2009 | Reply

  17. They just installed Vista Business on my pc at work. In checking processes, I notice that “Search Indexer” takes a ton of memory. Is there some way I can turn it off and keep it from loading at Start Up?




    Comment by Mark | November 11, 2009 | Reply

    • Mark,
      There are three methods for modifying the search indexer, vista turn off search indexer, the fasted way is to simply disable the Windows Search service.
      Run Services (just type “Services” at the Start Search bar), right click on the Windows Search service and select “Properties”. Then choose “Disabled” for the start type. Afterwards, you have to stop this service by right clicking on it and selecting “Stop”.


      Comment by techpaul | November 11, 2009 | Reply

  18. Great, I didn’t know about this topic up to the present. Thankz!


    Comment by JatStraikarFan | December 7, 2009 | Reply

  19. Thanks for your tip about using Windows Defender to disable start up programs. I was having an issue with disabling AIM from starting up. I also have an issue with OpenPandora, which puts the Pandora music player on your desktop without having to run it in your browser. However, I can’t seem to find the option from disabling it from my start up programs. I’ve checked in the msconfig tool, Windows Defender, the start up folder, and it seems like it’s nowhere to be found. Any suggestions?


    Comment by Devyat | January 15, 2010 | Reply

    • Devyat,
      See my reply (above) to jsobczak.

      Also, make sure the option “show processes for all users” is checked in Defender.

      Since your Pandora question is specific (not of interest to “everyone”) I will simply give a generic answer, check on the software’s FAQ and Forums page.. or Google it.


      Comment by techpaul | January 15, 2010 | Reply

  20. Yes, I did have processes from all users showing. I did read your above reply to jsobczak, and of course I have tried googling it. I’ve found nothing helpful in relation to programs that are loading on start up and not being able to disable them, and that was a general search, not just for OpenPandora. The only thing I’ve come up with is using the msconfig tool > selective start up > uncheck load start up items, but that isn’t really solving my problem. Thanks anyway!


    Comment by Devyat | January 15, 2010 | Reply

    • Devyat,
      What I was trying to point you at was the path to the user profile’s startup location.. go directly there and look for entries in each profile — including Default and Public.

      One other option is to use a specific start up blocking utility like Startup Cop or the applet in Glary Utilities.


      Comment by techpaul | January 15, 2010 | Reply

  21. this article is great. i wished i had this information earlier. i also enjoyed your sense of humour.


    Comment by segun | February 6, 2010 | Reply

  22. i hope it some issues of troublesome uninstalled Antivirus still bringing their heads at every boots can also be stoped using this information. i hope Disabling all the ‘Not Yet Classified’ items is not harmful.


    Comment by segun | February 6, 2010 | Reply

  23. segun,
    Sometimes you need to download and Run an uninstaller program to get an antivirus properly removed. That “uninstaller” will be found on the antivirus vendor’s website.
    (For example, if your antivirus was, say, McAfee.. you would go McAfee’s website and look for their “removal tool”.)


    Comment by techpaul | February 6, 2010 | Reply

  24. thanks, you have been of great help, i have fixed my computer and my friend’s as well. After using your instruction i discovered that apart from my laptop booting fast the downloads and the Internet is also alot faster.


    Comment by segun | February 10, 2010 | Reply

    • segun,
      I am glad you found the information useful. I hope you will visit often.


      Comment by techpaul | February 10, 2010 | Reply

  25. I have 2 laptops. Both had MS Office trial versions on them. I bought Home and Student edition (3 pc licence) recently and installed successfully on one. On the other laptop I’m getting an “incorrect product key” error msg. How can it happen?


    Comment by m. vish | April 21, 2010 | Reply

    • m. vish,
      There are several “ways that could happen”, and several possible troubleshooting approaches — I don’t have enough information to advise one over the other, so what I suggest is that you call Microsoft support: the number should be in the manual that came with your Office install disc. Also, you will see links such as “need help?” and “Get help”. Try clicking those. They should lead you to “Get Live Help”.


      Comment by techpaul | April 21, 2010 | Reply

  26. Hello Tech Paul,
    I used to have my volume control launch and appear in the tray (bottom right) when I booted up. It is gone and I can’t figure out how to get it back.


    Comment by Kay Entwistle | May 29, 2010 | Reply

    • Kay,
      I will reply to you privately.


      Comment by techpaul | May 29, 2010 | Reply

  27. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been asked to ‘fix’ someones machine when all it needed was a quick tidy up and defrag!.

    Must shamelessly plug Ccleaner and Revo uninstaller here as they are both fantastic little programs and also free!


    Comment by revreese | December 28, 2010 | Reply

    • revreese,
      I agree, and over the course of 1,200+ articles, I have endorsed them many times (even wrote a tutorial on using CCleaner).

      Appreciate the words of support!


      Comment by techpaul | December 28, 2010 | Reply

  28. Just A Quick Reply To The Help With Startup Programs, Your Advice Was Very Useful Thjanks Heaps :)


    Comment by Anonymous | August 10, 2011 | Reply

  29. Sir or Ms,
    Thank you for letting me know you found my writing helpful.


    Comment by techpaul | August 10, 2011 | Reply

  30. I am VERY grateful for you all – and for the information you provide.

    The question I have – being one who is somewhat technical, but lacking in “depth of knowledge” is – what is your suggestion for the most efficient way of checking the necessity of each “line-item” in startup?

    Once my Vista-system starts, it indicates “90 processes” in the Task Manager. It seems startup has slowed over time and 90 processes seems WAY-TOO-MUCH! (I could be wrong) My primary use for the computer is Communication(Email)/Internet Search/Word/Excel and other very-minor activities (administrative office work). My hesitation about “cleaning up” the startup is that I want to error on the side of caution and I’m not familiar with all the “Processes” – and it’s seems daunting and overwhelming trying to figure out how to research the “90” list.
    Please advise.


    Comment by Bob | October 19, 2011 | Reply

    • Bob,
      I am very glad you asked this question, as this is a very common way people mess up their computers (they get a little savvy, and start fiddling..). Due to a thing called “dependencies”, disabling one wrong item can cause frustrating headaches down the road.

      That is why the two MAIN WAYS to control running processes and manage Startup programs are described above.
      * Use Defender to disable programs. Doing so, reduces what you see in Task Manager’s “Processes” list.
      * Use Add/Remove Programs to uninstall programs you do not use anymore.

      To proceed further than that, you might hire a tech to “optimize” your PC for you. I don’t charge much, and my years of experience have taught me what it’s safe to disable and what isn’t (and what does NOT belong there..) and that is likely true for other techs.
      Or you can Google each item, find out who it belongs to, and whether it needs to be running. That’s basically how I learned.. way back in the day, and how I do it now when I run across a process I have never yet encountered.
      Bottom line: if you do not know, leave it alone.

      PS – there is no “you all” here. Only me.


      Comment by techpaul | October 19, 2011 | Reply

  31. WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for .


    Comment by Mirta | August 16, 2014 | Reply

    • Mirta,
      In case this isn’t a spam comment posted by a robot, (and it has some earmarks of being just that..) I will say thank you for letting me know you found my article helpful.


      Comment by techpaul | August 16, 2014 | Reply

  32. Hello. Everyone is about to remove programs out of startup. But is it possible to add a certain program to it?
    I would like a game to start with windows.
    Please help me how can I manage to do it.
    W/o a 3rd party program if possible.

    Thank you in advance


    Comment by Mr T | January 6, 2015 | Reply

    • MrT,
      Yes, and it’s easy. Locate the game’s executable file (i.e. game.exe) and right-click on it. Choose “Create shortcut here” (you may have to let it create the shortcut on your Desktop). There will now be a new ‘shortcut’ icon.
      Click the Start button, then All Programs, and scroll down till you see the Startup folder. Drag the ‘shortcut’ icon into that folder. That’s it. Done.
      But you really don’t want to add Startup entries, as they slow boot times, and least of all a game. But, whatever. It’s your machine.


      Comment by techpaul | January 6, 2015 | Reply

      • Thx a lot for the quick response.


        Comment by Mr T | January 6, 2015 | Reply

  33. techpaul windows defender software supports only or supports all types of windows os.


    Comment by suraj | January 6, 2015 | Reply

    • suraj,
      All current Windows versions.
      But at the time the article was written, Vista was the main one in service. (I’ve been doing this a long time..)


      Comment by techpaul | January 6, 2015 | Reply

  34. sir in my toshiba laptop when i connected the external devices like card reader,pen drive, data cables,dongel etc.when i plugin they not show the plugin device in notification baar why what is problem i cant identify this problem any helps thankx.


    Comment by suraj | January 11, 2015 | Reply

    • suraj,
      * Devices do not appear in the notification area. One must click Start > Computer to view them.
      * When first plugged in, an Autoplay window should open (asking what you want to do with the files on the device). If that’s not happening, check your Autoplay settings (here’s the Microsoft FAQ:
      * USB devices should cause a Safely remove device icon to appear in the Notification area. If that’s not happening, do a Google search for your version of Windows (as XP, Vista, 7, and 8 all handle the Notification Area differently) and (plus) the term “safely remove icon missing”.


      Comment by techpaul | January 12, 2015 | Reply

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