A reader wrote with a familiar complaint about managing his network. Some users were annoyed about the time it takes for Windows to complete its startup routines. He ran msconfig.exe and found many programs and services in the Startup tab. Then he began methodically testing to see what could be safely removed, but removing most startup items caused problems. He then began testing the results of reconfiguring some services for manual starts instead of automatic starts. Although Windows completed its startup in a shorter time, the user suffered because programs and utilities experienced delays when invoked.

Many of us have tried to tweak startup options for services and programs, and it's always a frustrating experience. However, Windows Vista provides a useful solution for this problem. In addition to previous OS startup options for services (Automatic, Manual, and Disabled), Vista introduced a new option, "Automatic (Delayed Start)." Services configured for this startup option don't begin loading until Windows has finished its basic startup processes, reducing the need to manage simultaneous operations and shortening the startup process.

Another Vista "goodie" related to this topic is an alternative to msconfig.exe. Windows Defender (included in Vista) provides a startup program listing that is easier to use than msconfig.exe. To see the list, open Control Panel, click Programs, then click Change Startup Programs to open the Software Explorer dialog box. The list that's displayed represents the startup programs for the logged-on user, but you can click Show For All Users to see the startup programs for all user accounts. You can group the startup items by category, and you can see all sorts of details about each program, such as the file name and location, the current version of the program, the date it was installed, and whether it is included with Vista or is a user-installed application. (Note that neither msconfig.exe nor Software Explorer display information about programs started by Group Policy or Scheduled Tasks.)