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  PC-Net's PC News - June, 1999
Don Watkins

Where Did All These Programs Come From?

By Don Watkins



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 With the introduction of Windows 95, most of these programs were no longer needed, having been replaced by Windows 95 drivers.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 needed.

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.

Startup group
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 from.

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 loading.

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.


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