Windows

Blank entries in the Windows MSCONFIG Startup tab

Using the Startup tab within the MSCONFIG utility, you can control which applications start when Windows boots. But sometimes, blank entries appear on the Startup tab for no apparent reason. Bill Detwiler investigates and provides a solution.

In this week's TR Dojo video, I demonstrate how MSCONFIG can be used to troubleshoot Windows XP boot problems. After seeing my description of the MSCONFIG Startup tab, several members asked about a blank entry they saw on my example. Member tech@... wrote:

Bill, Thanks for a very good, concise, overview of the MSCONFIG utility. The screenshots were great. One in particular, the 2nd shot of the startup tab, shows a line item (checked) without a name, command or location. Now that is real "Geek fun" trying to figure out what is loading - is it good, bad, necessary, a virus? I've always seen these items, and occasionally gambled on turning them off to see what happened. Most of the time that was a very bad idea causing problems of its own - even on a clean system. Could you offer an article or report on these "rogue" line items and if there's any way to identify them?

I responded in the original blog post's discussion thread, but thought a separate post was also warranted.

The entries shown on the MSCONFIG Startup tab correspond to registry entries located within keys that are shown in the Startup tab's Location column. Most of the entries can be found in one of the following keys:

  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce
  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce

Blank MSCONFIG entries occur when a registry value exists but contains no data. This can occur when a application install or uninstall fails, or if a pieces of malware has modified the registry.

Figure A: Blank entry in the Windows MSCONFIG Startup tab

In the case of the system shown in the video, the blank entry on the MSCONFIG Startup tab (as shown in Figure A) was caused by a registry value named MSWheel (as shown in Figure B)--the software for Microsoft Intellipoint mice.

Figure B: Blank MSCONFIG Startup entry in the Windows Registry

I deleted the registry value and the blank entry on the MSCONFIG Startup tab disappeared (as shown in Figure C).

Figure C: Blank entry removed from the Windows MSCONFIG Startup tab

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

4 comments
johnandjack66
johnandjack66

This problem was encountered many occassions in my career. Thanks to bill.

liviumacoviciuc2000
liviumacoviciuc2000

It seems that on my computer is a COM+ app that is trying to connect to internet, but is disallowed by my firewall.The process is services.exe, so it must be a hosted dll.I poked around the COM+ registry but could't determine which one was it. How can I discover this ? Can you help ? Can you write an article ? Thanks

ctinco
ctinco

That happened to me, by a failed attempt at changing the default value by some malware I think, so I just deleted the default key and it recreated itself on the fly. No more blank spots in msconfig.

Nunob
Nunob

I use process explorer to track down these rogue processes and what each is running in turn. Then usually through some online searches I can decide if the application is needed in startup. And I never delete them until I know I am not using them so I can always go back to msconfig and let them startup again. Hope this helps someone else. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb896653.aspx

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