I like the way you put that. Every program that loads when you boot and stays in memory slows your PC just a tiny bit, and increases the odds that something won't work properly. So it's best to assume that you should probably disable most of them.
I'm not talking about software you don't want at all, which is a whole other issue. I'm talking about programs you want to keep, but don't have a legitimate reason to always run in the background. Personally, I like WinZip and Photoshop, but I don't need little pieces of them running at all times.
What should you allow to autoload?
* First and foremost, security programs like your antivirus and firewall. Without these running in the background, your PC's security is compromised.
* If you have a laptop, it probably came with an autoloader that monitors battery life. That's worth keeping.
* It's possible that something, perhaps your sound card or backup program, just won't work properly without it's autoloader running. A little research and experimenting should tell you if that's the case.
* Some utilities need to be up at all times to do their job. These include Copernic Desktop Search, which must index your files in real time, and VistaStartMenu, which improves Windows' user interface. With such programs, you need to decide if they're worth the extra overhead.
Before you disable any autoloaders, create a system restore point. In XP, select Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore. Select Create a restore point, click Next and follow the wizard. In Vista, click Start, type sysdm.cpl and press ENTER. Click the System Protection tab, then the Create button.
Conventional wisdom tells you to disable autoloaders in msconfig, but that's not really the best place to start. Applications with autoloading modules often react to such disabling by correcting your "error." If you want an autoloader to stay off, tell the application, not msconfig.
You can usually do this through the system tray. Hover the mouse cursor over an icon to find out what it is. Once you find out, if you don't see the point of that program autoloading, right-click the icon and select Options, Preferences, or something similar from the pop-up menu. If nothing seems appropriate, launch the main application and look there. Examine the various menus and setting dialog boxes for options to load at startup or display something in the system tray. Uncheck all such options.
Turn off as many autoloaders this way as possible.
But you'll have to go to msconfig eventually. Not all autoloaders in the systray can be turned off as described above, and not all autoloaders put an icon in the systray. So select Start, Run (just Start in Vista), type msconfig, and press ENTER. Click the Startup tab.
All you need do now is uncheck the autoloaders you don't want, and hope they stay unchecked. If you're not sure what a particular autoloader does, look it up at http://www.sysinfo.org/startuplist.php.