June 1999--It happens to the best
of us. We're merrily computing along and then something unusual
happens. We hit Ctrl-Alt-Del and find a large list of tasks and we
have no idea where these things came from. This month, we look at
how to find out where all these programs are loading. There's no
magic answer to identifying what all these programs do, but finding
out where they come from is a start.
Out with the old
Before Windows, programs loaded via instructions in the autoexec.bat
and config.sys files. Most often, these programs ran in the
background or were special drivers. With the introduction of Windows
95, most of these programs were no longer needed, having been
replaced by Windows 95 drivers. In fact, many systems do not have
autoexec.bat or config.sys files these days because they are not
Windows introduced two new files called win.ini
and system.ini. Win.ini stores application configuration options.
System.ini stores system configuration options and loads drivers
needed by Windows. Win.ini also has two entries (load= and run=)
that tell Windows to load and run programs when Windows starts. For
example, my printer driver installed a program on the "load=" line.
Windows also introduced the concept of the startup group. The
startup group is a place for applications to store references that
automatically launch when Windows launches. Windows 95/98 continues
this concept with the startup folder. Anything listed in this folder
will launch when Windows starts. To stop something from loading, you
need to remove it from the startup folder. I usually create another
folder called saving area and move the items from the startup
folder. I find this easier than deleting the reference because there
have been times I removed the wrong entry by mistake. Oops!
So far so good--this is all fairly straight
forward. Then along came Windows 95.
Windows 95 changes
Windows 95 redesigned the way programs stored their configuration
information. Prior to Windows 95, .ini files were used to store
configuration information, usually one for each application. Windows
95 combined all these .ini files into one large database called the
registry. This database is organized with a series of branches,
containing configuration information. This article will not discuss
the entire registry--just the parts that Windows uses to load
programs when it starts.
When Windows 95/98 loads programs at startup, it
does so from two branches. These are the places to check when
everything else fails and you can't figure out where a program comes
Before we look at these branches, we need to spend a little time
with Regedit, the program used to access the registry. This program
looks somewhat like Windows Explorer. The interface shows two
sections. The left-hand side shows the tree structure and the
right-hand side shows the data values.
The first branch we want to look at is:
Wow, that looks like a mouthful! It's not
really--you'll get the hang of things. Using Regedit, click on the +
sign next to HKEY_Local_MACHINE, then on SOFTWARE, then on
Microsoft, then on CurrentVersion, then click on Run.
Once there, on the right-hand side of the screen
you will see a list. Each line of this list refers to a program that
loads when Windows starts. Chances are, the program you are
wondering about is listed here. If it isn't, there is one other
branch it's probably listed under:
Once you've found the entry what do you do with it? With Regedit,
your only option is to delete the reference, with little to no
provision for recovery. That's not good, since we are talking about
the main database of programs installed in Windows. If you are
running Windows 95, I recommend a third-party application called
Fix-It, which includes a Control Panel Applet called WinCustomizer,
which allows you to enable or disable programs with a couple of
clicks of the mouse. Windows 98 users have it a little easier.
Click on Start, then Run, type in MSCONFIG, then click on the
Startup Tab. You will be presented with a list of programs with a
checkbox by each one. Uncheck the box to disable the program from
Figuring it out
This information should make it easier to figure out where all those
strange programs are coming from. It won't tell you what the
programs are, but you may be able to determine this once you know
where the programs come from.
Until next month, best in computing.