Touch the on button, and electronic devices like televisions and stereos are ready to use instantly. Turn on a computer, however, and you may wait minutes before the system is ready to check e-mail or start work on some other task.
Frustratingly slow startup times are one of the biggest complaints about computers. Laptops seem to be especially sluggish, and I ve heard stories from people who have drummed their fingers for 5 minutes while waiting for their laptop to boot.
Computers really do pull themselves up by the bootstraps when you hit the on button. They automatically move instructions in key programs from permanent storage on the hard disk to the random access memory (RAM) chips, where they are ready for immediate use.
In the past, computers during the startup process launched only bare basics programs needed to generate the background screen and give users full access to the machine. Modern computers are set up at the factory to load other programs. Some programs are automatically put themselves into the startup routine.
You may be sitting there waiting, however, as the computer launches programs that you rarely or never use. Once launched, the programs run in the background, invisible to you. That may seem harmless. However, background programs can slow down a computer all day long, by hogging RAM and other resources.
Some of the programs that launch automatically during startup may even be spyware, which eavesdrop your online activities and report back to spam advertising companies.
Computers have a built-in program, msconfig, that helps you control what launches during startup. Click the Windows Start button, select Run, type msconfig (no quotation marks needed), and click on the Startup tab. Uncheck programs you are absolutely certain are not essential for a normal startup.
How do you tell?
I ve included some details in past columns about msconfig. But readers are always left with doubts about what programs can safely be kicked out of the startup routine. Msconfig could easily include that information. It doesn t, and that makes it less useful.
Other startup utility programs do provide that information, and let you make safe and informed decisions about what programs launch and run in the background. One of the most popular is Startup Cop Pro, which can be downloaded for $5.97 from PC Magazine s web site (www.pcmagazine.com). Go to the site and search for the program by name.
A search on the Internet will locate other commercial startup utility programs, including Ultimate Startup Manager (www.gigabest.com), which costs $19.95.
Both are designed to address another failure of msconfig, which removes programs from the startup sequence, but does not keep them out.
Some programs, including certain media players, will repeatedly try to reinsert themselves into the startup sequence. Startup Cop Pro and Ultimate Startup Manager either warn you when a program is being added to startup (so you can block it) or allow you to block additions.