Manage startup programs in Vista using Windows Defender's Software Explorer

Windows Defender is Windows Vista's real-time spyware protection system. In addition to its manual scanning features, Windows Defender comes with a very neat feature called Software Explorer, which can help you manage authorized software installed on your system.

Windows Defender is Windows Vista's real-time spyware protection system. In addition to its manual scanning features, Windows Defender comes with a very neat feature called Software Explorer, which can help you manage authorized software installed on your system.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I discuss Software Explorer's features and show how to use Software Explorer to elegantly manage your startup programs and, subsequently, your system resources to provide better performance.

Accessing Software Explorer

Software Explorer can be easy to overlook. Here's how to find it:

1. Click the Start button, type Defender in the Start Search box, and press [Enter].

2. When you see the Windows Defender Home page, click the Tools link on the menu.

On the Tools And Settings dialog box, you'll find the Software Explorer link in the second column under the Tools heading, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Figure A

You'll find the Software Explorer link on the Tools And Settings dialog box.
Once you click that link, you'll see Software Explorer, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Figure B

Software Explorer's user interface is very intuitive.

Software Explorer's user interface is very easy to understand. At the top, you have a Category drop-down menu that allows you to investigate Startup Programs, Currently Running Programs, Network Connected Programs, and Winsock Service Providers. The Startup Programs category contains a list of programs, providing a detailed description of the currently selected program. Each item that you select from the Category drop-down menu provides you with a similar layout.

Managing system resources

With a sufficiently powered system running Windows Vista, you might not think that system resources would be a problem -- but it can be, particularly when unnecessary programs are leeching memory. (Of course, what one person thinks of as unnecessary programs may be essential to another user with different needs and performing a different set of tasks.) With that in mind, you'll have to apply this technique on a per task basis.

Let's take a closer look at the Startup Programs listed in Figure B. The first two programs in the list in the Startup Programs section belong to Adobe Acrobat; the information in the Details section makes it very easy to identify them. You may still need to turn to the Internet for more specifics, but Software Explorer provides you with a good head start.

In my example, the first program is Adobe Acrobat SpeedLauncher and the second is AdobeCollabSync. The Adobe Acrobat SpeedLauncher is a program designed to decrease the amount of load time when you open a PDF document. The AdobeCollabSync allows you to use Acrobat Reader's Shared Review features.

While both of these programs are safe and useful in some situations, let's suppose that I'm currently focusing on other tasks that don't include the use of Acrobat Reader. In this case, I'd consider these two programs unnecessary and would reclaim unused system resources. Since these aren't crucial programs, I can eliminate them with impunity. To do so, follow these steps:

1. Click the Show For All Users button and take the appropriate action when the UAC pops up, revealing the activated Remove and Disable buttons.

2. Select the Adobe Acrobat SpeedLauncher and click the Disable button, which will display a confirmation dialog box.

3. After you click Yes, you can disable AdobeCollabSync.

Now, you'll see that both Adobe Acrobat SpeedLauncher and AdobeCollabSync are listed as Disabled, as shown in Figure C, which means that the shortcuts have been disconnected from the Startup Programs section. To fully remove Adobe Acrobat SpeedLauncher and AdobeCollabSync from memory and reclaim those resources, restart your system.

Figure C

Figure C

Software Explorer now lists the programs as Disabled.
As the system restarts, you'll receive a pop-up message in the notification area letting you know that Vista is currently blocking some startup programs (Figure D). This warning will only display momentarily, but it serves as a reminder with each startup that some startup programs are disabled.

Figure D

Figure D

When you disable programs in Software Explorer, Vista displays a warning in the notification area.
If you return to Software Explorer after you restart, you'll see the disabled items still listed, as shown in Figure C. This menu, along with the notification pop-up, will help you keep track of what you've disabled. You'll also notice that once a program is disabled, you can easily put the program back into play when you need it by clicking the Enable button. This makes it easy to temporarily toggle certain noncrucial programs off and on, depending on your needs.

I could have easily gone to the Start menu, accessed the Startup group, and deleted the shortcuts, but that wouldn't be as elegant because restoring the shortcuts at a later date would involve multiple steps and require me to remember specifics such as filenames and locations.

Be careful!

When using this technique, you don't want to disable a crucial program or operating system component that could cause your computer to stop responding or prevent you from accessing certain operating system features; you want to find programs that you can identify as designed to support other programs or perform a task that you're not currently using.

On my example system, I only disabled two programs that support Acrobat Reader. Your particular system may have lot of other startup programs that you can disable without problems. For example, on another system, I disabled a program called the Catalyst Control Center, which supports and provides additional features for an ATI video card. I also disabled the HD Audio Control Panel, which supports and provides additional features for a built-in Realtek sound card.

What's your take?

Have you investigated Software Explorer? If you have startup programs that you'd like to temporarily disable, what are they? Did you notice an improvement in performance after you disabled them?

By Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.