Streamline Startup and Shutdown
You don't boot and reboot your PC as frequently as you once did, thanks in part to Windows' greater stability in 2000 and XP. Nevertheless, those who seek the path of simplicity should start by closely examining the startup process. The fewer superfluous programs that load at startup, the faster the PC will boot and the more memory will be available for programs. As a side benefit, keeping tabs on startup programs will help you prevent problems caused by spyware apps or viruses.
Your first step to relieving the traffic jam at startup is to uninstall programs you never use, especially the ones that always put an icon in the system tray. Look first in the Start menu for an uninstall icon alongside the program's main icon. If no uninstall icon appears, launch Add or Remove Programs in Windows' Control Panel, highlight the unneeded program, and then click the Remove or Change/Remove button to start the process.
Once you've done that, you can take care of the programs that you probably want to keep installed but don't need to have running in the background all the time. One common example is Apple's QuickTime (which loads a file called qttask.exe at startup), or the QuickPlay component of Musicmatch Jukebox. Every time you watch a QuickTime movie, for example, the program puts itself back in the system tray. Get rid of such programs from your system tray, and you'll simplify your startup--but you can still use the programs when you want them. To do this, you must look in all the places Windows uses to launch programs at startup, and disable the unwanted ones.
Slim Down Your Startup
Windows can launch programs automatically at startup four ways: with a shortcut to a program in the Start menu's Startup folder (in Start, All Programs, Startup); an entry in the Windows Registry; a reference in one of Windows' old-school initialization files like system.ini or autoexec.bat; or (if the program falls into a special category called a service) in the Computer Management console. You'll need to go through each location and disable or remove references to programs you don't want to run every time you boot.
One easy way to accomplish the task is to use Windows' System Configuration Utility, a tool that can remove such references from all four places. (If you're running Windows 2000, get the tool and save it to the c:\winnt\system32 folder, first.)
Choose Start, Run, enter msconfig in the Open field, and click OK to launch the tool. Items listed under the Startup tab come from the Registry's startup path; though it's highly unlikely that a program might use the system.ini or win.ini file to start itself up, you can browse those tabs for a particular program if you can't find it anywhere else. You can manage services through Msconfig as well, but we'll get to a better way to turn them off in a minute.
To prevent a program from starting up, clear the check box next to it, click OK, and reboot. If problems occur as a result, just go back into the System Configuration Utility, and fill in the check box again to reenable the program.
You can save boot time and free some memory by stopping services you don't need, and then setting them so they don't start with Windows. Open the Services Console: Right-click My Computer, and select Manage. When the management console window opens, in the left pane double-click Services and Applications (or click its plus sign) to expand that item, and then select the Services item that appears beneath it.
The Services Console shows you which services are running (the ones that are listed as 'Started') and how a service is set up to start: Automatic (meaning it launches the service each time you boot up, whether you need it or not), Manual (it won't run at startup, but Windows may launch the service if the operating system needs it to do something), or Disabled (it can't run at all, even if Windows needs it).
Of course, disabling one or more services that Windows might need in order to function could cause some problems.
Standby to Speedup
No matter how many programs and services you prune away, starting up and shutting down will still consume time. There's a better way to put your computer to bed: Put your PC into Standby or Hibernate mode instead of shutting it down completely. Standby powers off the display and drives but maintains power to the CPU and memory, allowing you to wake your PC and get back to work in a few seconds. Hibernate writes the contents of memory to disk and then shuts the PC off completely; on rebooting, your PC reads back the session saved to disk so you can start up exactly where you left off.
Hibernation makes the most sense for notebooks (where you want to maximize battery life), while Standby suits desktop PCs. Double-click the Power Options applet in the Control Panel; select the Power Schemes tab; adjust the monitor, hard-disk, and standby options to your satisfaction; and then click OK. To enable hibernation, click the Hibernate tab, check Enable hibernation, and click OK. Some PCs, especially older ones, may not support Standby or Hibernate; if they don't, they won't have a Hibernate tab.