Microsoft's Sysinternals Autoruns is a free portable tool that allows you to manage Windows startup programs. It is certainly the most comprehensive startup manager for Windows 7, Vista, and Windows XP.
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I added the tool to the 4sysops database of free admin utilities almost three years ago. Since Autoruns 10, which was released yesterday, is a major update I had a look at the new features. For those who don't know this essential admin tool yet, here is the revised introduction of my original review:
Autoruns is the most comprehensive auto startup managing tool. Windows offers many options to auto-start applications, and Autoruns knows them all. Whenever I install a new application, the first thing I do when the setup program is finished is to launch Autoruns to see what startup programs have been added. Often they only eat resources and slow down the computer without being really useful. With Autoruns you can easily disable these startup programs and, if you realize later that you want to activate them again, it only costs you a mouse click.
I also launch Autoruns if I suspect that a computer has been infected with spyware. Many spyware programs are not smart enough to hide from Autoruns and can be easily removed with the tool.
The only disadvantage of Autoruns is its complexity. It displays so many different entries in numerous different locations that you easily lose track of things. However, in most cases it is enough to check the first five folders in the Everything tab, the Winlogon tab, the Scheduled Tasks tab, and the Services tab. The majority of startup programs can be found there.
Autoruns not only allows you to manage startup programs but also all kinds of additions that third-party applications have added to Windows. For example you can get an overview of Explorer extensions, codecs, and Sidebar gadgets. Since some startup program options are user dependent, you can switch the user account easily through the User menu.
Autoruns 10 on Windows PE 3.0 ^
The most interesting new feature of Autoruns 10 is the ability to run the tool on Windows PE and scan startup programs of an offline Windows installation. I have tried Autoruns with Windows PE 3.0 and I just have one complaint. The default screen resolution of Windows PE is 800x600, and Autoruns is not really prepared for that. That is, even the smallest window size doesn't fit completely on the screen. I recommend maximizing the Autoruns window because otherwise it is difficult to use the tool.
In most cases you don't want to manage the startup programs of Windows PE but of the Windows version that is installed on the PC. You'll find the new feature that allows you to scan an offline Windows installation in the File menu. All you have to do is specify the system root folder of the Windows installation and the profile path of the user account you want to examine.
Unfortunately, in my test the browse-to-folder function that enables you to navigate to the system root folder and user profile did not work in my test on Windows PE 3.0. I had to add the path manually. This feature worked flawlessly under Windows 7.
Another change in Autoruns 10 is that Windows entries are not displayed by default. In version 9 this feature was disabled by default. This certainly makes sense because in most cases you don't want to mess with Windows startup programs.
The Sysinternals blog also mentions that .exe and .cmd extension handlers have been added. I suppose the author didn't mean that Autoruns adds new handlers but that the tool is able to detect modifications by third-party applications. But since I am not sure exactly what this new feature does, and before I write something wrong, I am asking 4sysops readers for help. 🙂