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Finding the hidden locations of auto-running programs
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Finding the hidden locations of auto-running programs 

Bit Player for Jan. 18, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

Most software programs install themselves politely. They run only when you want them to run.

Then there are the others. These programs seem to have been written by dimwits. They automatically start running as soon as you boot up and don't go away until you shut down.

Internet programs seem to be the worst offenders. Microsoft's newest Web browser, Internet Explorer 4, goes out of its way to stick its bits and pieces on the desktop at each bootup even if you install the slim version of the browser (the one that does not include the hated "Active Desktop"). ICQ, an otherwise outstanding chat-and-file-sharing program, insists on loading even when you're not on the Internet. And there are hundreds more examples.

Many users already know that Windows 95 has a Startup folder that contains links to programs that load when Windows starts up. Taking those links (the shortcuts) out of the Startup folder keeps those programs from running automatically.

You can get at the Startup folder a couple of ways. The easiest way is by right clicking on the Taskbar, choosing Properties, then Start Menu Programs, then Remove. Navigate to the Startup folder and delete items you don't want to run automatically.

Windows also can start programs at bootup if they're listed in the old-fashioned WIN.INI file, located in the Windows folder. You can edit WIN.INI by clicking the Start button, choosing Run, typing "win.ini" (without the quotes) and pressing Enter. Look for "Load=" and "Run=" lines near the top of the file. You can disable them by putting a semicolon in front of each line, or you can edit each line by removing references to programs.

But Windows has a more-or-less secret way of running programs at bootup, too. Within the Windows Registry are instructions Windows follows when it starts up and while it's running. It's this method, hidden from view, that many programs use to launch themselves right from the start.

Before I tell you how to get at those hidden references, please note that making changes to the Registry can mess up your PC if you're not careful. Follow the instructions faithfully.

Click the Start button, choose Run, type "Regedit" (without the quotes) and press Enter. Regedit will open on your screen. Make sure "My Computer" is highlighted, then press Ctrl-F. This opens a Find window. Type "runonce" (all one word, without the quotes) and press Enter.

Regedit will begin searching. It will then show you a lot of folders on the left. The one you want to look at is the "Run" folder (called a "key"). By searching for "runonce"—which is an unusual name in the Registry—you'll always get to the "Run" key.

Click on the "Run" folder. If it's not empty, you'll see a list of programs that are run each time Windows starts. Right click on the name entry in the right windowpane for any program you want to disable, then choose "Modify." Type "REM" and a space in front of the entire entry for the name. (The entry usually includes the directory path as well as the name. Putting "REM"—which stands for "remark"—prevents Windows from following the commands in the rest of the line.)

When you're finished, press F3 to continue the search. Some Windows installations will have more than one "Run" entry. If Regedit finds another one, do the same thing.

Close Regedit. Notice that Regedit does not ask if you want to save your changes; it's already saved them. Changes you make are reflected in the Registry immediately. Combine that with the fact that Regedit has no "undo' feature and you'll see why editing the Registry can be hazardous.

There are two other ways Windows can start programs automatically on bootup. I'll discuss them in another article.

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