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Some of you might wonder why I review WhatInStartup because the ultimate free Windows startup manager is Microsoft's Sysinternals Autoruns. There appears to be no room for a competitor. Not so fast! Read on, and you will see that NirSoft's WhatInStartup is worth a try.
Windows has quite a few places in which autostart programs can nest. Unfortunately, many software vendors abuse this Windows feature to make users aware of the presence of their invaluable programs. The majority of Windows startup programs have no real reason to be launched when Windows boots up. This bad habit is one of the main reasons why many people believe that Windows is bloated and slow. Of course, if myriad startup programs occupy RAM and CPU resources, a computer will hardly have time to do the things a user really wants.
A Windows startup manager tool like WhatInStartup helps you quickly get rid of these pests. However, some of those little troublemakers are so cheeky, they just add themselves again to one of the startup locations whenever you launch them. One of the advantages of WhatInStartup over Autoruns is that it can automatically disable those Windows startup programs. This feature is called "Permanent Disabling" and can be enabled in the Options menu.
Note that this feature only works if WhatInStartup is running. Thus, you have to ensure that WhatInStartup starts when Windows boots up. I know, autostarting a Windows startup manager sounds like fighting fire with fire. But every bush fireman can tell you that this is an excellent strategy. Unfortunately, Nir Sofer was too modest to add an autostart feature to WhatInStartup. So you have to move the program manually to the Windows startup folder—for instance, by dragging a shortcut of the program to the Start Menu Startup folder.
Another thing I like about WhatInStartup is its table view. Autoruns sorts the startup programs according to their autostart location. Although this might make sense from a programmer's point of view, it limits the usability of the startup manager. In WhatInStartup, you can sort the startup programs by any of the columns, which can be quite useful for troubleshooting purposes. For instance, you can sort the startup programs according to their creation date, which helps you track down recent problems with a PC.
WhatInStartup's context menu also has more options to offer than Autoruns. Aside from opening the startup location, you can also run the startup program, which is helpful if you want to find out what the tool is actually doing. You can not only launch a Google search for the executable, as with Autoruns, but also for the product name. Another useful function is that WhatInStartup lets you save the information of selected startup programs to a text file. This feature can come in handy if you want to compare the Windows startup program on different PCs.
Even though WhatInStartup has some interesting features to offer that Autoruns lacks, it can't replace the Sysinternals tool. Autoruns is by far a more comprehensive startup manager. It lists not only startup applications but any kind of code that is executed when Windows boots up. Many places exist where unwanted startup programs can hide: services, device drivers, scheduled tasks, etc.
However, most troublemakers use the common startup locations that WhatInStartup covers. If a program has to run as a service, it usually has a good reason for it. Thus, Autoruns is the better option if you are inspecting a PC for security reasons. But, in cases, where you just want to find out why a PC has become slow recently, WhatInStartup is an interesting alternative to Windows startup manager.
I tested WhatInStartup v1.32 on Windows 7.