If your workstation feels a little sluggish (especially when you first log in after booting up), then you may want to check out what apps run when the operating system starts. Every version of Windows has made a change in how to manage these programs, so it might be a little confusing if you’ve just switched from earlier versions to Windows 11.

In today’s post, we’ll take a look at how and why programs run at startup, as well as show you how to disable any of the ones you don’t need. Of course, if your machine is just slow because it’s getting to the end of its lifespan, this won’t be a magic bullet, but it can help if you’ve got a lot of software competing for resources.

What is Startup?

At its core, an operating system is a lot of programs that run together to make your computer usable. We can sometimes forget that Windows is made of a window manager, and File Explorer, and all of the other components; they’re all their own programs that run separate processes from one another. When the operating system starts, it runs these programs automatically to make your computer usable.

taskbar Other, non-operating system programs can run at startup too. Some do this because they have features that should be “always on,” or they do it for some kind of convenience. Some startup apps that you might have by default are associated with Microsoft products: OneDrive, Xbox App Services, Cortana, Teams, etc. Other software that you’ve installed may run at startup too. For me, that’s KDE Connect, things from the manufacturer of my laptop, and authentication services for some of my licensed software. You’ll see that a lot of these programs have icons in the System Tray and its hidden icons:

What’s the Problem with Startup Apps?

There’s no problem in general with having apps start up when you log in to Windows—that is, as long as the apps are legitimate and not malware that has been installed on your device. If you don’t use OneDrive on the desktop, for instance, then it’s running and using network bandwidth for services that you’re not using. What really becomes a problem is these programs misbehaving when you’re not using them or they’re not logged in—maybe not being able to reach a server that it expects to, and trying to connect with that server every second until it does.

A common issue with startup apps for services like OneDrive or Google Drive, for example, is that people set them up to sync or backup a folder, but then log out of the account. If you don’t want to be asked to log in every time that you sign in to Windows, you can simply disable the app in Startup. This saves you the resources that the app would use: CPU time, network bandwidth, and memory, all of which are essential resources for having a speedy system.

Disable Startup Apps

Startup apps have been moved around in each of the last few versions of Windows. On Windows 7, for instance, you needed to run a command (Win+R, then type msconfig) to make changes to a configuration file; in other versions, you would be able to delete files from a folder in the Start Menu to stop apps from running on startup.

Microsoft has deprecated these methods, and instead, it’s now done in Task Manager, which has had its own tab for Startup Apps since Windows 10. To get to Task Manager, you can push Ctrl+Alt+Del and select Task Manager, right click the Taskbar and select it, or use the Start Menu’s search function by typing Win and then writing “Task Manager” or however few letters it takes for it to be selected. You can also use PowerToys Run if you have PowerToys installed.

In the Startup Apps tab, you’ll find a list of the programs that run at startup, and you can right click and disable them if you’d like. Be warned, though, that if you go overboard here, you might shut off something that you need. This can happen when the names of the apps aren’t clearly represented in the Startup Apps tab. It usually doesn’t cause too many problems because you can just run these apps when you need them instead of having them run automatically. If other programs rely on these services, though, things might get a little awkward when they call for the non-running app.

-Written by Derek Jeppsen on Behalf of Sean Goss and Crown Computers Team