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Remove unnecessary autostart apps that won't go away

Some programs sneak onto Windows XP's start-up list--and stay there--regardless of whether you need them. Here's how to make certain applications start up only when you need them.

A couple of times a year, I check the list of autostart programs in Windows XP's System Configuration Utility (aka Msconfig) to see if any apps that I don't need to start automatically have snuck onto the roster.

The older my PC gets, the more important it is to avoid slowing down XP's start-ups as the OS loads programs I'll probably never use.

(Note that the $30 WinPatrol, the free CCleaner, and many other Windows utilities can be used to prevent applications from starting with Windows.

Here, I'm focusing on the tools built into XP. Also, the Software Explorer component of Vista's Windows Defender security application gives you a clearer view of the OS's autostart applications. I'll describe that program tomorrow.)

Msconfig-uring out CTFmon
To view your autostart apps in Msconfig, press the Windows key (or Ctrl-Esc), press R, type msconfig.exe, and press Enter. The last time I checked the list, I noticed an entry for CTFmon.exe. This is an extension for Microsoft Office XP, 2003, and 2007 that enables speech and handwriting recognition, as well as other language functions. Unchecking the program's option in Msconfig does no good because it returns to the list automatically the next time Windows loads.

Microsoft's support site describes a convoluted, multistep process for removing the program from your start-up list. You begin by deactivating it in Microsoft Office via the Control Panel's Add or Remove Programs applet, then you change settings in the Regional and Language Options, and finally, you delete two DLLs manually from the Run box.

"There's gotta be a better way," I thought, as I read through Microsoft's instructions. There is. Gerhard Schlager's CTFMON-Remover does the trick in a fraction of the time. Simply unzip the download file, double-click CtfmonRemover.exe, and select Deactivate CTFMON.EXE. Step through the short wizard, and the program is removed automatically (the option "Is the CTFMON.EXE installed?" switches from a green "Yes" to a red "No.")

The CTFMON-Remover program
The free CTFMON-Remover utility rids Windows' list of autostart apps of this little-used Microsoft Office extension. Gerhard Schlager

Pruning your list of autostart apps
Uncheck the programs on XP's autostart list that you don't need to have on all the time. Candidates include iTunes, Adobe Acrobat, and utilities for cameras, printers, PDAs, and other peripherals you rarely use. (I noticed that my system was loading control programs for a printer I replaced six months ago.)

Of course, an entry such as the one on my PC for a discarded printer indicates that you're overdue in uninstalling the program altogether, either by using its own uninstall option off the Start menu, or via Add or Remove Programs.

If an entry in your autostart list is unidentifiable, enter the name in your favorite Web search engine, and look for information about it. That's how I found out that I didn't need "point32.exe", which is for Microsoft's IntelliMouse, nor "nwiz.exe", Nvidia's program for "enhancing" my graphics display with features I'll never use.

Just be careful not to uncheck the entry for an autostart program that your system needs to function properly. Keep the entries for your antivirus, firewall, and other security programs checked. Also leave active the listings for your network and Windows itself, as well as for printer and other peripherals you use frequently. When in doubt, leave it checked, though a Web search should shine a light on any mystery file names you find there.

Msconfig craziness
Whenever you make a change in Msconfig, the program prompts you to restart your system. To prevent the message from popping up in the future, check "Don't show this message again" before you click either Restart or Exit without restarting. The next time you start your PC, you'll see a message stating that the System Configuration utility started in "Diagnostic or Selective Startup" mode. Check "Don't show this message or start up the System Configuration Utility when Windows starts," reopen Msconfig, press the General tab, and select Normal Startup > OK > Exit without restart.

Tomorrow: Pare your list of autostart applications in Windows Vista via the Software Explorer.