By Jesse Franklin
There is a handy tool that is built into Windows 98, ME, XP, and can be copied to windows 2000. This program is called Microsoft System Configuration Utility, or MSCONFIG for short. MSCONFIG is a small program that lets you see what programs are interacting with your computer when it starts. If you have programs that load every time you turn on your computer and can't get them to stop loading, then this tool is for you. You can chose what programs you want to turn on or off simply by checking or un-checking the checkboxes.
To start MSCONFIG click START and go to RUN. Type MSCONFIG and you will see the program open. There are 5 different pages available within MSCONFIG where you will find the checkboxes that you can use to select or de-select the changes you want to make to your computer during startup. Note that this may seem like a lot of items running on your computer. If you are not sure of a selection, it is best to let it remain there. Making changes that you are not sure about might cause more harm than good. You can always come back later to make changes as you'll have a better understanding after a little research.
You might be frustrated with a slow starting computer and it will become very tempting to un-check every checkbox. Most of these items take very little resources and you will not even notice a difference in performance by disabling them. In fact, some of these selections are very necessary and critical to the performance and maintenance of your PC, such as Scan Registry and System Tray. More items you will want to keep running are Task Monitor, Antivirus Software, a Firewall, or a Backup Power Supply monitoring program. These programs are worth the small amount of system resources they use, considering the protection you will have by allowing them to run when the computer starts.
The five pages in MSCONFIG that you will see are called General, Startup, Boot.INI, Win.INI, and System.INI. The '.INI' means that these pages refer to a certain type of file. An INI file is an initialization file.
SERVICES are similar to the programs listed in startup but they are, for the most part, hidden from the average user because they provide important services to the system and the user.
BOOT.INI is where you can configure Boot Options, such as SAFEBOOT, NOGUIBOOT, BOOTLOG, BASEVIDEO, and SOS.
WIN.INI is the old windows location for storing system settings back in windows 3.0
SYSTEM.INI is the old windows location for listing system files to be loaded, such as drivers and fonts.
The windows registry has taken over the primary functions of win.ini and system.ini. These are just left for backwards compatibility. These files are still loaded and processed but there is much less data in them since post windows 3.1.
The General page includes your options to start Windows in a Normal Startup, diagnostic Startup, or Selective startup. If you disable a program from starting, then you will have the Selective Startup enabled, where the startup options are changed. After making changes in MSCONFIG you will have to reboot your computer. When you reboot the changes will take place. You might have a popup window when you log on. This is typical. Just click ok. You can also make the popup window not come up anymore by checking the box there.
Now you should be able to make changes in MSCONFIG. Have fun and don't make changes that you are not sure about.
Addendum from Josh Erdman
When diagnosing your machine or scanning for viruses or malware, we recommend that you use MSConfig. Choose selective startup and only keep the 'Load System Services' option checked.
Article last reviewed: 03/21/2005