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Programs that launch automatically at startup are described as ďrunning in the backgroundĒ of your computer. Itís important that you not only be aware of the programs running in the background, but that you decide what programs launch at startup. Every time you install new software, thereís a good chance each program is going to add itself to the ever-growing plethora of programs running in the background, so youíre probably not aware of all the programs that are running in this manner.

To explore this area, for all versions of Windows except Windows 2000 and Windows NT, click Start > Run and type in msconfig, then press OK.

When the System Configuration Utility launches, click the Startup tab.

The programs that have a check mark next to them are programs that are launching automatically when you start your computer. These are programs that are referred to as ďrunning in the background.Ē They are consuming your computerís memory (RAM) and other system resources, so if you donít need a program launching at startup, itís best to disable it by removing the check mark next to it.

The two programs that must always have a check mark are SYSTRAY or SYSTEM TRAY and EXPLORER, if you see them listed. Windows 98, in particular, requires these programs in order to function properly, so if you see them, donít remove their respective check marks. Web sites such as the Startup Applications List,
Startup Applications Knowledge Base
, and the Startup Items List can help you decipher what those listed programs are.

Unfortunately, even if you can figure out what a program is, you may not know whether itís needed. If you find yourself in that digital pickle, take a look at the Windows Start Programs list. Every program is listed under one of four categories: Necessary (keep Ďem); Useless (these slow down your system, so itís recommended to remove the check mark); Dangerous (viruses and Trojans); and At Your Option (your choice, but they wonít harm your system if you keep them.) The database is updated frequently, and thereís a search feature in the event that you canít locate something thatís in your list of programs launching at startup.

Last, but not least, to review a detailed discussion about the use of MSCONFIG, please visit NetSquirrelís How to Use MSCONFIG.

When you install software programs, they will often insert themselves into your Startup folder without your knowledge or permission, causing them to run in the background unnecessarily. If you need to launch a program, you can always launch it manually from Start > Programs or from a Desktop shortcut icon.

After you install new software, be sure to return to the Startup tab referenced above to determine if the new program added itself. If so, remove the check mark unless thereís some particular reason you want a software program to load automatically every time you start up your computer. Programs you want to launch automatically at startup would typically include your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs and any other system monitoring type programs you deem appropriate for your system.

Enjoying this article? Then why not subscribe to Mr. Modem's Weekly Newsletter ( today! Computer tips, tricks, virus alerts, hoax information, plus prompt, personal responses to your computer questions!

When disabling programs that are running in the background, itís a good idea to only remove the check mark from one program at a time so you can keep track of what youíre doing, in case a problem arises. After removing a check mark, use your computer for a day or two or until youíre sure that everything is functioning properly. If a problem does arise, replace the check mark and restart your PC. If you remove the check marks from many programs at once and a problem arises, you wonít know which one is the culprit.

Depending on the number of programs you see listed, determining what a program is and then removing check marks one at a time can be a tedious process. Just keep in mind that itís probably taken a long time for these programs to congregate on your Startup tab, so itís going to take some time for you to straighten it out.

I generally have a maximum of three or four programs checked on the Startup tab, so if you have 20 or 30 or more, you undoubtedly have many more programs than need to be running when you start your computer.

You might also want to consider installing a free utility program called
the Startup Monitor to keep an eye on programs that attempt to install themselves in your Startup folder. Complete information is available at on the Web site. Startup Monitor is free, but if you decide to keep it, please make a donation to Mike Linís Tip Jar (youíll see it on the Web site). Mike Lin is the programmer who created Startup Monitor and other interesting utilities available from the same Web site.

I install Startup Monitor on all my computers from day one. Itís an excellent way to keep a handle on programs that might otherwise take up residence in the Startup folder without your knowledge. (How dare they?)

As I mentioned at the outset, programs that run in the background consume your computerís memory (RAM) and other system resources, so for better performance, if you can disable (by removing the check mark) as many of the programs from running in the background, as possible, your computer will breathe a bit easier, your systemís performance will be enhanced, and youíll reduce the chance of receiving any ďInsufficient memoryĒ error messages.

NOTE: Microsoft inexplicably excluded the MSCONFIG utility from Windows 2000 and Windows NT. You can, however, download and install it, if you wish, from the PerfectDrivers Web site. Complete instructions are available at the site.

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