Now that you have identified the programs that start automatically on your computer, how can you get them under control? You’ve identified the program names – which are ok or safe to prevent from starting? Which are bad and need to be removed?
The basic tool to learn more about programs that are set to start automatically, if you are using MSConfig to identify them, is your web browser (I.E., Firefox, Opera, or whatever). Use it for a visit to our favorite search engine — Google. There, you can search for the program name. You might even want to search for the program’s path, as that will sometimes help narrow the selection of answers.
My preferred tool for understanding the programs that start automatically — and for controlling them — is WinPatrol. WinPatrol’s "Startup Programs" tab shows you the title, command and version of the programs being run. More importantly, there are three very important buttons at the bottom of the page. These buttons are "Info," "Remove," and "Disable." Note that the "Disable" button doesn’t show up unless you have selected an individual program.
The Info button opens your web browser and takes you to WinPatrol’s database of programs. If you purchase the "Plus" license, you get access to this database. Almost all the time, I have found information on the unknown program there, including a description of it, whether WinPatrol’s developer considers it safe, malware, spyware, or whatever, and his recommendations (e.g., "remove it."). If you do not purchase the Plus version ($25 for lifetime license), your option is to use Google or any other search engine and pick through the websites to get your information.
When you disable a program in WinPatrol, that disables it even if you stop using WinPatrol. Once you have Disabled a program, you can Enable it by selecting the program in WinPatrol’s Startup Programs tab. At that point, an Enable button will appear. Just click on Enable to make the program start automatically.
In other words, if you want to experiment or if you are not sure whether you want to remove a program or not — Disable it. If that was the wrong thing to do (for example, if your modem doesn’t work any more), you can Enable it easily.
Unless you are sure what a program does, check it out. Even if you disable or remove them from the startup list, a number of programs will set themselves to automatically start up again. Examples here are "Windows Messenger" and "RealPlayer." Both of these have options in their own program to turn off the automatically-starting function.
Taking back control of your computer from all the automatically-starting programs is pretty easy. The hard part is figuring out which programs you want or need to start automatically. You want your antivirus and firewall programs to start automatically. You probably want anything that is for your printer to start automatically. You might, or might not, want your digital camera’s picture-loader to start automatically.