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add programs to startup vistaWindows startup can be both a blessing and a curse. Including certain programs to launch on start can save you a lot of time and be great for automation, but adding too many can severely bog things down. I have a grotesque amount of programs set to automatically launch during my startup, but it’s necessary for me. That being said, I know I’ve got to wait an extra minute or so for things to settle in every single time I reboot my computer.

It recently came to my attention that there are people who are under the impression that to allow a program to run at startup, you’ll need to either enable it in the included program’s options or preferences or expect it to be shown on your System Configuration page (for those of you using Vista or 7, as it doesn’t exist in 8). That’s just not the case. Anything and everything can be launched on your Windows startup.

What Do You Want To Launch At Startup?

As obscure as it may be, executables aren’t the only thing that can be launched when your system starts. Maybe you’d like for a picture to open in your default editor? You can also set it up so that an audio file plays when Windows starts. The first step of the process is to pinpoint what you want to include in startup and navigate to the appropriate folder.

Create a Shortcut

The Windows desktop can be described as a placeholder for all of your shortcuts. Very rarely are files saved directly to your desktop, and never will an application be installed there. Think of a Windows shortcut as a redirect. You click the icon and, instead of launching the file associated with that icon, you are redirected to another file path and that file is instead launched.

add programs to startup vista

Shortcuts can be created for every single file type. In Windows 8 (and I believe Windows 7), shortcuts for executables do not include the shortcut indicator icon, which is an overlay at the bottom left-hand corner of the file. The indicator is an arrow over a white background. It’s used just to indicate that the file is not actually the type that it appears to be, but just a shortcut to that file type. Every other file type does show the indicator.


In Windows Explorer, right-clicking a file and selecting Create shortcut will create a shortcut in the same directory. Hovering over Send to and then selecting Desktop (create shortcut) will instead send it to the desktop. For this example, sending your shortcut to the desktop is easiest.

Navigate To The Startup Folder

In the Windows Start menu, there is a folder with the name “Startup“. Why the Start menu? This opens up the possibility to very easily add items to automatically run at your startup.

The folder is as follows: %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

Paste this into your Windows Explorer address bar and hit enter.

add programs to startup vista

The above screenshot shows how mine looks. Chances are, you already have a few things sitting in this folder (especially if you use Dropbox or Evernote). As you can see in the Type column, everything here is a shortcut.

Drag & Drop The Shortcut

Adding an item to your startup is as simple as restoring the window, finding your shortcut, and dragging and dropping it into this folder. If you’d like to test if what you’ve done has actually worked, log off and log back on to your current user profile. It’s faster than rebooting and will reload your startup entries.

It’s that simple! Be advised that I’d consider this to be your last resort when adding applications to your startup. Use it only for applications that do not include a manual setting for it to launch at your startup. Otherwise, things could get messy and problematic.

What do you think of this Windows tip? Despite being one of the most basic and essential, I’ve seen it as not very well-known.

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