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Tech 101 | Tech Q&A

Tool Can Lift Programs Off PC's Launch Sequence

October 19, 2000|DAVE WILSON |

Q: Several programs such as Quicken and Active Sync automatically start when Windows boots up. I always have to shut them down manually. How do I prevent them from launching?

A: Theoretically, just making sure programs aren't listed in your Startup folder should keep them from launching. Theoretically, however, everybody who's building software writes to the standard. Typing that sentence made the friendly geeks here at Q&A labs shake with laughter. But seriously, there's a sweet little tool hidden in most recent versions of Windows that should solve your problem. You're looking for something called System Configuration Utility. There are a number of ways to find it. We'll walk you through the button-clicking method.

Hit the Start key on your desktop--the one you use to turn your computer off--and open the Programs folder, then Accessories, and finally System Tools. At this point, you want to click on an item in the System Tools folder labeled something like System Information.

There's lots of stuff there and you can learn about your system by playing with the powerful utilities buried here. Use a bit of caution, however. Back up your computer's critical data before calling on the demons of Microsoft to do your bidding.

OK, it's party time. Once the utility is open, you'll see a box labeled Microsoft System Information and a row of menu items running along the top, starting with File on the left and Help on the right. Click once on the Tools menu and a new menu will drop down. Open up System Configuration Utility. At this point, you'll see a series of tabs running across the top. Click on the tab labeled Startup.

Welcome to the mother lode. Everything listed in the box you see before you loads each time your box boots up. If you're like most people, you'll see dozens of incomprehensible lines of code. Look at the items carefully, use a little logical deduction and you can probably figure out what most of them do. Unchecking the box next to the item listed means the program won't launch on start-up. If you change you mind down the road, just go back and recheck the item.


Q: I run Microsoft Office 97 at home and use Word and Excel fairly regularly, but almost never touch Access or PowerPoint. I would like to upgrade Word and Excel, but buying the whole suite is expensive. Is there a cheaper way?

A: You've got several options. Microsoft makes a product called Works with a list price of about $55. The latest version of Works, 6.0, was released in August and is largely compatible with both Word and Excel. If you want all the power of Word, consider Works Suite 2001, which is basically Works plus a full version of Word, for about $110.

If you really want to save some money--or if you think you've already paid Microsoft enough for buggy software--you can also try a couple of free programs that promise compatibility with both Word and Excel. Download a suite of software from ThinkFree Corp. at, or try StarOffice from Sun Microsystems Inc. at

And finally, Microsoft offers free "viewers" so people who don't own their products can read files stored in those proprietary formats. They're free, and pretty small. You can see what's available at


Q: I've been an EarthLink user for many years. In recent weeks, though, my dial-up account has been on the fritz. Half the time when I try to log in, the network won't recognize my username or password. What's going on?

A: All ISPs go through cycles when things just don't work right. Sometimes it's because of a software upgrade or new equipment, sometimes it's because of a security breach and sometimes it's because of a flood of new subscribers.

Eventually these problems usually get resolved. Sometimes, however, things stay bad for several weeks. And that's why everybody who uses e-mail should be prepared to change Internet service providers. The easiest way is to register your own domain name.

Your current e-mail address is probably something like because EarthLink is your ISP. If you decide to leave EarthLink for another ISP, you'll have to contact everybody you communicate with via e-mail and give them your new address.

If you've got a bit of spare cash sitting around, you can set up an address that will always be yours, and which you can move from ISP to ISP.

You can register your own Internet domain name, which is everything to the right of the @ sign in an e-mail address. So your address would be something like Most ISPs will host a domain name for you for an extra $10 a month, and you can send and receive e-mail through this address. Owning your own domain name gives you the freedom to abandon an ISP that's behaving badly.

Several companies will register a domain name for you. The original is Network Solutions at A domain will cost you about $35 a year.


Dave Wilson is The Times' personal technology columnist. Submit questions to Tech Q&A at Put Tech Q&A in the subject line.

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