Ever wonder why it takes your computer so long to start up after you log on? After all, the system already loaded the majority of the operating system components. Does your computer take longer to load after you sign on than it used to take when you first brought it home? These are all questions that you will find the answers to in this chapter. You can make your system load faster by using a number of cool tweaks and hacks. The last chapter touched on how to make the system boot faster. This chapter concentrates on how to make the system load faster after the operating system has loaded and you are presented with the welcome sign-on screen.
After you turn on your computer, it goes through the boot-up process, which loads the main system components and drivers. Eventually, when those are finished loading, the Windows shell is started and you are presented with the sign-on screen. After the welcome screen is displayed and you sign on, the system begins to load your user profile settings and the rest of the Windows shell. After that is finished loading, the system runs your applications that are in the startup folder as well as other sneaky Registry startup programs. When these applications are finished loading, your mouse will no longer display the hourglass and you are set to do whatever you want with your computer.
This chapter begins by examining ways to speed up the logon process. Then it discusses how to get rid of all those extra applications that run at startup that further slow down your computer. When you have finished reading this chapter, your system will have a much faster loading time.
As I just mentioned, a lot occurs when you log on to your computer. Windows has to validate your password, load your profile settings, apply the settings, and then launch any additional applications that are registered to start automatically. That's a lot of areas to fine-tune to allow for a faster logon. To get started, let's take a look at automatic logon.
If you are the primary user of your computer and you do not have any other users, or if everyone in your household uses the same username, you are the perfect candidate for enabling automatic logon. Automatic logon is a great technique that will save you time that is often wasted when your computer is waiting for you to type your password. Even if you do not have a password assigned to your account, you are still required by the logon welcome screen to click your name to sign in. Having to do these tasks yourself is unnecessary and a waste of time if you are a candidate for automatic logon.
Automatic logon can be a great feature but it can also create a security problem for your computer. If you use your computer for business, if you have data you prefer to keep safe from others, or both, I strongly recommend that you do not enable this feature. If you happen to step out of your office or if your laptop is stolen, you have left the door to your computer wide open. By enabling automatic logon, you are trading convenience for physical access security. However, you are not changing your network security, so your data is still safe from network attackers. The risk of someone remotely connecting to your computer is the same as if you did not have automatic logon enabled.
Enabling automatic logon is a quick and easy Registry hack. Follow these steps to speed up your sign-on with automatic logon:
Click the Start button, type regedit in the Search box, and then press Enter.
After Registry Editor has started, navigate through HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\ Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon.
Locate the AutoAdminLogon entry. If the key does not exist, create it by right-clicking the Winlogon folder and selecting New and then Registry String.
Right-click the AutoAdminLogon entry and select Modify. Set the Value to 1, as shown in Figure 10-1. Then press OK to save the new value.
Figure 10-1: Setting AutoAdminLogon to 1 to activate automatic logon
Locate the DefaultUserName entry or create it if it does not exist.
Right-click DefaultUserName and select Modify. Set the value to the username that you primarily use to sign in to Windows. Press OK.
Locate the DefaultPassword entry or create it if it does not exist.
Right-click the DefaultPassword entry and set the Value to your password.
Close Registry Editor and restart your computer.
After you reboot your computer, Windows Vista should automatically sign on to your account. You will notice that your computer will now get to the desktop much quicker than before. If you ever want to disable automatic logon, just go back into Registry Editor and set the AutoAdminLogon entry to 0.
After you sign on, the system loads your profile, finishes loading the Explorer shell, and then begins to load the startup programs. If you have ever purchased a computer either online or from a retail store, then I am sure that you have noticed all the annoying software programs that automatically load right after you sign on. Some computer manufacturers go so overboard with startup applications that Windows has to automatically hide them from appearing in the system tray so that your taskbar has enough space to show open windows. If you are like me and have built your own computer, you do not have to deal with all that preloaded junk that comes from the big computer manufacturers. However, you are still vulnerable to auto-start programs that get installed by many of the popular applications you use. Over time, as you install more applications, the automatic startup applications can get out of control and definitely slow down your logon.
Popular applications such as Adobe Photoshop, AOL Instant Messenger, iTunes, Windows Live Messenger, and many more install auto-start components. Consider all the extra auto-start components these applications add on top of the auto-start applications already installed on your computer, such as antivirus and anti-spyware applications. Your logon can easily become slowed to a crawl by dozens of applications that load once you sign on. This section helps you see what programs are starting automatically and then will show you some great tricks to stop them all from starting up.
The first step in stopping the auto-start applications is to identify exactly what is starting up and if it is needed. You can use two different utilities to find this information. The first is the System Configuration utility that comes with Windows Vista. System Configuration enables you to easily see which applications start on logon. Another great utility is called Autoruns by Sysinternals. Autoruns is a more comprehensive utility that allows you to see all applications that run on logon as well as other types of auto-starts such as browser or shell plug-ins.
First I cover using Windows Vista's System Configuration to identify and disable unneeded auto-start applications. Then I dive in to using Sysinternal's Autoruns to disable auto-start applications as well as other auto-start components.
The System Configuration utility included in Windows Vista is very easy to use. First, you need to get a list of all the applications and components that are automatically starting up when you sign in. Follow these steps to discover the applications that are automatically starting up on your system:
Click the Start button, type msconfig in the Search box, and then press Enter.
After the System Configuration Utility has loaded, click the Startup tab, as shown in Figure 10-2.
Figure 10-2: The System Configuration utility's Startup tab
Now that the list of the active startup programs is visible, make a list of all the items listed with the name as well as the file that is loaded, which is listed under the Command column.
After making your list, you can start researching which programs should be removed and which programs should stay. Because almost every computer has different programs starting up after logon, it is best to search the Web to find out if the service can be safely removed from the startup. One cool site to visit is a database of common startup programs called AnswersThatWork, located at http://www.answersthatwork.com/Tasklist_pages/tasklist.htm. At that site, you will find a recommendation for each of the programs listed. If you cannot find one of your programs listed, just do a quick search on Google and most likely you will find several Web sites showing what the program does and what removing it will do.
It's easy to remove the automatic startup applications with the System Configuration tool. When you have the System Configuration tool open, follow these steps:
Locate the item you would like to disable from starting up and clear the box to the left of it.
When you are finished unchecking all the applications that you no longer want to autostart, press OK to save your changes.
You are asked if you would like to Restart now or Exit without Restarting. I recommend that you restart now instead of waiting.
After you restart, you are reminded by the System Configuration tool that you have just made some changes to your startup. Check the box that says Don't show this message or start System Configuration when Windows starts.
After removing some of the automatic startup applications, you will notice that you can sign on much faster. If you have any problems after disabling a startup application component, you can always enable it again by checking its box in the System Configuration tool.
Autoruns by Sysinternals is a more comprehensive tool to identify and disable unneeded auto-start applications, components, and plug-ins. Similar to the System Configuration tool, Autoruns operates in the same way but also shows the auto-start components of other items such as browsers and the system shell.
Autoruns is also easy to use. To get started, you need to download a free copy of the Autoruns software from http://www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/utilities/Autoruns.mspx. After you have Autoruns downloaded and extracted to a folder, follow these steps to get started:
Go to the directory where you have extracted Autoruns and run autoruns.exe.
After Autoruns has started, click the Logon tab, as shown in Figure 10-3.
Figure 10-3: Using Autoruns
You will see all the automatic start applications, as you would if you were using the System Configuration tool. Identifying an unneeded service is even easier in Autoruns because of the right-click Google search feature. Right-click any entry and select Google. This automatically opens your web browser and searches Google for the process name. Simply selecting the entry will also provide more information on what it is.
Disabling a process is also similar to the method used in the System Configuration tool. Just clear the box to the left of the process name and it will no longer start after a reboot.
The power of the Autoruns software lies in the ability to control other automatic starting components such as browser add-ons and Explorer shell plug-ins. Check out the following list of the additional useful tabs available in Autoruns:
Explorer: This tab will help you get your shell extensions under control as well as see all the applications that tap into Windows Explorer with DLL files.
Internet Explorer: This tab lets you find applications that hook themselves into IE.
Boot Execute: This tab enables you to find applications that have integrated themselves into the system boot.
Print Monitors: Use this tab to get rid of extra print monitors for features that you don't use.
Drivers: This tab provides another way to disable drivers for your hardware devices.
Winlogon: This tab lets you find all the applications that run on your logon screen.
After you uncheck any options, simply restart your computer for them to take effect.
You may experience some applications that you have previously disabled automatically starting up again. Software developers often use various techniques to check to make sure that their application is registered to auto-start when you log on. If it is no longer set to auto-start, it will automatically set it up again to do so. The software developers may be trying to make sure you use their application by making it difficult to disable auto-start or sometimes applications are just trying to make sure that other programs are not disabling their program or taking over their turf.
Software applications can often conflict and compete with each other for use on your computer. This occurred when I installed several media players on my PC. After installing the programs Winamp, iTunes, RealPlayer, and Windows Media Player, I noticed that they would fight for my music file associations (that is, which application would open the file). Every time I would run RealPlayer, it would change all my music files over to be played in their player by default. The same thing happened when I would try to play my music files in other players. From this experience, I found that it was not uncommon for an application to install a program to be run at system startup that would check and take over (or preserve, as the developers call it) itself from other applications.
Getting rid of these applications from your startup is much trickier than unchecking a box in the System Configuration utility or Autoruns. It involves digging into the preferences of each application and changing several options. In the paragraphs that follow, I will show you how to disable two of the most popular and most difficult applications from starting up automatically. Additionally, the methods used can be applied to disable other sneaky applications from starting up.
Real Networks, the developers of RealPlayer, could have made it a little easier for users to disable some of the extra program features. RealPlayer is a good application, but it comes bundled with so much extra junk that knowing how to disable all the extra features becomes a necessity.
RealPlayer does not come preinstalled with Windows Vista. If you did not download and install this application yourself, and it cannot be found on the Start menu, then you do not need to worry about taming RealPlayer.
One of the features of RealPlayer that I find the most annoying is the Message Center application that is automatically set up and starts when you log on. When you least expect it, no matter what you are doing on your computer and after you have run the RealPlayer program, you get a little pop-up message (see Figure 10-4) that alerts you to some random information or advertisement.
Figure 10-4: RealPlayer Message Center alert
You can do two things to get RealPlayer under control. First, you need to stop the scheduler from starting up every time you start Windows. You will recognize this application in the System Configuration utility as realsched.exe. No matter how many times you uncheck this item in the System Configuration utility or Autoruns, it will keep coming back. The only way to stop it is inside the RealPlayer application. Follow these steps to stop it for good:
Start the RealPlayer application by clicking the Start menu, selecting All Programs, and then selecting the RealPlayer icon.
After RealPlayer has loaded, click the Tools menu bar item and then select Preferences. This loads the program preferences.
Expand Automatic Services and then select Automatic Updates.
Clear the Automatically download and install important updates box, as shown in Figure 10-5.
Figure 10-5: Disabling RealPlayer's automatic updates
Make sure that you will never again see a message from the so-called Message Center. To do so, select the Message Center entry listed under Automatic Services.
Click the Select Message Topics button on the right side of the window.
When the Message Center window is displayed, uncheck Product News and Real Exclusives located at the bottom of the screen. Navigate through the categories of messages and uncheck those as well. When you are finished, press the Save Changes button.
Close the Message Center window so the Preferences window can be viewed again.
After you are back to the Preferences window, press the Configure Message Center button.
Clear all the boxes on the screen.
Press OK to close the Configure Message Center window.
A warning window displays informing you that you are disabling the Message Center. Click Yes to proceed.
Close the Message Center window again so that you can view the Preferences window.
Press OK to save your changes and close the Preferences window.
That's it. RealPlayer is now under your full control and will not be starting up automatically any more and will not be sending you advertisements. As you can see, it is more difficult than just unchecking one box in the System Configuration Utility, but it is not that much more complex when you know what boxes to clear.
Windows Vista security alerts are not only an annoying feature for advanced users but they also slow down your logon time because they have to automatically start when you log on. Disabling this feature by clearing a box is simply not an option using the System Configuration utility or even Autoruns. Security alerts are deeply embedded into Windows Vista and can be turned off only from within the Windows Security Center application, similar to what you had to do with RealPlayer.
If you are unfamiliar with security alerts, these are the little boxes that pop up from your system tray that inform you that you are missing antivirus or other types of computer protection. Figure 10-6 shows an example of a security alert. If you are an advanced user, you do not need to be reminded all the time that your security settings may be insecure.
Figure 10-6: A Windows Vista security alert
In Windows Vista, Microsoft made it easy to disable security alerts from starting automatically. Just follow these steps:
Click the Start button, type Security Center in the Search box, and then press Enter.
After Security Center loads, click Change the way Security Center alerts me.
Select Don't notify me and don't display the icon, as shown in Figure 10-7.
Figure 10-7: Disabling security alerts in Security Center
Close Security Center and you are finished.
Interested in more security-related tweaks and tips? Check out Part III of this book to learn how to fine-tune Windows security and your Internet settings, and how to protect your privacy.
As you can see, stopping sneaky programs from starting automatically requires you to go into the program's options/preferences/settings. When you are inside a program's settings, you have to uncheck any options of features that start up automatically. Most programs such as Windows Security Center alerts are easy to disable from starting up automatically from within the preferences. However, other programs, such as RealPlayer, require a little more work because you have to disable automatic updates and several Message Center features.
The best way to stop other sneaky programs that keep starting up automatically after you try to remove them using the System Configuration utility is to dig through the program's settings. Look in the program's help file for information on how to disable automatic startup if you are stuck. If you cannot find any information, try searching on the Web for information, or post a request for help on one of the various computer support Web sites, such as the http://www.TweakVista.com forum at http://www.TweakVista.com.
Each user account on your computer can have different auto-start applications associated with it. Certain programs may start up for one user but not for another. All these settings are stored in the system registry. With the help of the Registry Editor utility, you can manually change these entries.
But first, let's go over where Windows Vista stores the auto-start information in the Registry. Windows stores auto-start information in two places for every user. It stores which programs will start for a specific user under the user's Registry hive/location. It also stores a list of programs that will start automatically in the local machine hive. Registry entries in the local machine hive will start up for all users of the computer. Removing these entries will remove it for all users of the computer.
Now that you know the two different types of startup items, user-specific and all user entries, you can begin hacking the Registry to change the startup programs. First, you will find out how to modify the startup programs for all users, and then you will learn how to modify the startup programs for individual users.
To modify the startup programs for all users, follow these steps:
If you have not already done so, start Registry Editor by clicking the Start button, typing regedit in the Search box, and pressing Enter.
After Registry Editor has loaded, expand and navigate through HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run. You will see a list of all the auto-start applications in the local machine context, as shown in Figure 10-8.
Figure 10-8: Registry Editor showing auto-start programs for all users
If you want to remove a startup program, just right-click the name and select Delete. Alternatively, if you want to add a new entry, right-click the white space and select New and then String value. Right-click on your new entry and select Modify so that you can edit it and set the value to the path to the executable you want to run.
That is it. You now know how to add and remove programs that will start up for all users on the computer. The steps for modifying the startup programs for individual users are very similar. The only difference is you have to go to a different place in the Registry.
Instead of navigating in the Registry under HKEY_Local_Machine, you have two options. You can log on to an individual's account and then go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER followed by the same navigation path used earlier. Alternatively, you can go to HKEY_USERS, expand the account SID (Security Identifier) key, and then follow the path used earlier.
Either method will result in the same outcome. However, if you don't have access to a user's account, you can still modify his or her auto-start applications by going to HKEY_USERS.