Another powerful utility that can affect system startup behavior is the System Configuration Utility. Its stated purpose is to let users automate routine troubleshooting steps when Microsoft Product Support Services technicians diagnose Windows configuration issues. The System Configuration Utility does this by allowing a user to easily modify system configuration through a series of simple check boxes, reducing the risk of typing errors. The average user will probably find this utility most useful for making changes to startup behavior without having to edit the Registry or make extensive shortcut edits.
You launch the System Configuration Utility by opening a Run dialog box (Start | Run) and typing msconfig.exe (just msconfig will work, too). To protect itself from the naïve and the curious, XP does not include a Start Menu shortcut for this tool. Apparently, Microsoft has provided users with a way to easily change startup and other XP settings but doesn't trust users to actually use it.
But then again, maybe Microsoft knows what it's doing because this graphical utility has the power to make changes to vital operating system files. The System Configuration Utility can let an ill-informed user make devastating changes with just a few ill-advised mouse clicks.
At any rate, unlike the Startup folder in your profile, the System Configuration Utility will affect what loads in the System Tray. The System Tray is located on the lower-right side of the Taskbar by default. Programs and services that load at startup time congregate there, and the more that load, naturally, the slower startup will be. Unfortunately, most programs don't let you choose whether they will load in the System Tray.
For example, I have a utility that installed with my wireless network card. It runs every time I start the computer, although I don't have much need for it because I let Windows manage all my wireless connections. But I don't want to completely uninstall the program because it contains diagnostics that can come in handy when troubleshooting. And yet this same utility offers no way to prevent it from running at startup time. What to do?
As shown in Figure 3-9, I launch the System Configuration Utility and navigate to the Startup tab. Here, I'm presented with a list of all items that load at startup time. The wireless utility I'm looking for here is WG511WLU, and I can tell it not to load at startup time by clearing the check box.
Figure 3-9. Configure startup items easily with the System Configuration Utility.
One of the toughest things about this utility is figuring out what names correspond to what startup programs. As you can see, some of the Startup Item names are straightforward, but others are quite cryptic. Use the Command section to help you decipher them. For example, I might not know that WG511WLU is the name of the wireless utility, but the Command section tells me that the Item runs a program stored in the Program Files\NETGEAR\... directory. Ah ha! Netgear is the manufacturer of my network card, so this is the item I'm looking for.
Notice, too, that any startup items you've created in the Startup Start Menu folder will display here as well. The bottom entry, Outlook, is one of my startup items, and its Location is in the Startup folder. (The other startup items are in the Registry, which reveals the magic of this tool: by unchecking the WG511WLU program, I am actually editing the Registry without the fuss and risk of opening it, making changes, and then saving it.)
Notice, too, that you can also use System Restore from this interface by clicking the Launch System Restore button on the General tab. System Restore is covered in Chapter 13, "XP Backup and Recovery."
Also note that in order to use the System Configuration Utility, you must be logged on to your computer with an administrator account.