East Carolina University
Department of Psychology

Background Buggers

    I really hate all those unnecessary programs that run in the background of my computer. Many of these are installed along with software that you want to use now and then, and they might well make those applications a bit easier to boot up, but they use precious memory, may interfere with disk scans and defrags, and just are not worth the trouble they cause. Some of these are installed by Internet firms (including Microsoft) who want to notify you when there is an update to the software you got from them.

 Startup Control Panel

   I recommend that you obtain the Startup Control Panel, which allows you to identify startup programs and prevent them from running at startup. This free, small utility is available at Mike Lin's homepage. While you are there, you might want to download the Startup Monitor. This free, small utility warns you when any program tries to register itself at startup. It then allows you to prevent it from doing so. If you have the Startup Control Panel installed, the program entry becomes "disabled," which means that it will not run at startup, but you can enable it later if you wish. Mike Lin was an 18 year old freshman at MIT when I posted this link.


    You can also use MSCONFIG, which is included in Windows 98, ME, and XP, to see what programs are being loaded at startup. Windows 2000 users can download MSCONFIG from SVROPS.COM. I shall refer to programs that load at startup as being in the "startup group." You can use MSCONFIG to stop some of these programs from loading at startup. From the Start Menu, select RUN. Tell it to Open: MSCONFIG, OK. Click on the STARTUP tab. Programs checked in the resulting window are those that will be executed at startup. Uncheck those you want to get rid of. You may need to experiment, carefully, to discover what the various programs do. Do not uncheck those associated with your virus protection.  You can uncheck a program and decide to recheck it later.

Want to know what the hell one of these programs really does?

    Keep in mind that two different programs may have the same name, and the description given there may not be for your program of that name.

    Some of the buggers that you disable may disappear from the MSCONFIG list, but will be available from the Start Menu, Programs, Disabled Startup Items. You can move them from there to the Startup list. All disabled items remain on the hard drive, so if you have recorded their names, you can always add them back to the startup group if necessary. Here is what I found on my Windows XP machine:

    I should note that I had previously disabled several programs in the startup group.

    You can also use Msconfig to see what services are running on your PC.  I recommend investigating any that you do not recognize, especially those where no manufacturer is noted.  For example, I found "dkab_device" with no manufacturer.  A little investigation revealed that it provides bidirectional communication between my Dell laser printer and my parallel port, so I let it stay.  "SavRoam" was also suspicious, but I discovered it is part of Symantec AntiVirus.   To disable a service, just toggle its checkbox to unchecked.  After you have finished checking the services you wish to disable, click Apply, Close.  When you reboot your computer you will be in diagnostic mode.  You can then see if everything works OK with those services disabled.  After you are satisfied with your choice of what to disable and what to let run, return to normal mode (you don't want to be booting into diagnostic mode every time you start up your computer) and then use SERVICES.MSC to disable or set to manual those services which you do not want to run at startup.


    Start, Run.  Enter "services.msc" and hit Enter.  Click on the extended tab so you get an extended description for each service.

    To change the status of a service just right click on it and select properties.  Change the startup type to Automatic, Manual, or Disabled.

    Here are suggestions regarding what can safely be disabled.  Depending on how you use your PC, there may be a number of Microsoft services that you can turn off.

    The Real Player software is so pernicious that it will add its background bugger back in after you turn it off. If you just have to have that player on your computer, you should be able to kill its background bugger by opening up the Real Player, going to View, Preferences, clicking General, StartCenter Setting, and then unchecking "Enable StartCenter," OK, OK.

    You can see what processes are actually running at any moment by hitting CTRL-ALT-DEL and selecting the Task Manager, Processes. You will not see all of the startup files running, apparently some of them run and then close. You will see some buggers that were not in your startup group, buggers that must be started by programs that are in your startup group or by applications that you have opened since you booted your computer. Some buggers will appear for just a second or two and then disappear again.

    If you need more carefully to monitor your computer's memory use, you might try Memstat for Windows 98, 2000, XP. It is said to track memory and free it if necessary. I have not used it myself.

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This page most recently revised on 7. August 2007.