How To Add Programs To Your Startup On Windows Vista, 7 & 8

Craig Snyder 03-02-2013

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.

Related topics: Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Vista.

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  1. Uros Vukasinovic
    February 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    i agree with comments for ccleaneer

  2. Sreekanth Stern
    February 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks Craig Snyder :)

    I think this will be a quick step

    1. In the Start Menu search line, type " shell:startup" and press Enter.

    2.To Add a Startup Program :
    Drag the shortcut and drop it in Startup folder.

    3.To Remove a Startup Program :
    Right click on the shortcut in the Startup folder and click on Delete.

    • John
      February 9, 2013 at 10:29 am

      GOOD tip for current working Startup folder you gave. A little confusing for some that may need to explain that 'Startup' is the Windows start button, and you can type shell:startup in the Search window there and it will work. Something I haven't seen mentioned here are command-line options (special instructions that the app's that have their own feature for you to chose to start when Windows starts... they add these without you knowing it. Chances are if you right-click and select properties on all of your existing Startup entries, you will see some of them. They are good to make a note of. Personally to disable Startup entries temporarily I create a folder under Startup called Hold and make it hidden attribute. Then I simply drag items from Startup to Hold (keeping all command-lines intact) when I want to use them again I simply drag them back.

  3. Anonymous
    February 4, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Cant find the path %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup on my windows 7 32 bit. Copied & pasted on windows explorer but nothing came up. Any ideas?

    • The Dream
      February 4, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      the folder actually exists but is empty

    • Doc
      February 4, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      It should be %APPDATA%\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup ... an easier way to get there is Start -> All Programs -> scroll down to Startup -> Right-click; click Open or Explore to open the current user's Startup folder, or Open All Users or Explore All Users to view/modify startup entries that will start programs/documents for anyone who logs on.

      One thing that most people don't know is that you can put a shortcut to a *document* like a text file, spreadsheet, etc. in the Startup folder, and it will launch with whatever the default program is.

  4. Ravuama Nayago
    February 4, 2013 at 1:16 am

    simple enough...

  5. Doc
    February 3, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    "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." I've seen people's desktops littered with files and folders full of junk (rather than using My Documents or My Downloads folders), and I wouldn't be surprised to see a program unZIPped to the Desktop and run from there (whether it's a self-contained program or a Setup installer). Many people don't realize there's any place on a hard drive but the Desktop or My Documents, or even that you can create a folder anywhere else (although Windows tries *really hard* to prevent you from exploring outside My Documents).

  6. Rigoberto Garcia
    February 3, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Thanks Craig, good explanation...

  7. Karsten Hormann
    February 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I'm using Autoruns to clean up my startup. It's incredible how many programs (or just parts of them like the check for updates) start with Windows. Apple software usually has multiple entries for all kinds of services, so it's good to look for those first if you have iTunes installed.

  8. Taswir Haider
    February 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks for some great tips.I am agree with ReadandShare ''software makers often put shortcuts in the Windows Startup folder β€” so their programs will execute automatically whenever Windows is started. No one does that anymore nowadays β€” it’s all done directly in the registry β€” and shows up on system config.''

  9. David Hobson
    February 3, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks for some great tips

  10. Achouak Ben
    February 3, 2013 at 11:40 am

    thank you Craig for the explanation

  11. Alan Wade
    February 3, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I usually stop un-necessary apps and programs from starting up at logon. As you said it slows down your system and isnt necessary.
    My favorite method for this is first with 'Your Uninstaller' then have a little check in MS Config.

  12. Ishmum
    February 3, 2013 at 4:33 am

    Or you can use CCleaner, it's much better because you can see hidden startup programs aka the ones you can't see in the "Startup" folder

    • Alexander
      February 4, 2013 at 10:55 am

      I also use CCleaneer when my pc is booting up slowly.

    • Nancy B
      February 8, 2013 at 7:26 pm

      Where do I find CCleaner? Google it?

      I find often there are too many things loading on start up, but then again except for obvious ones I'm not sure what to not have start on start up and if I'm going to screw things up!

  13. ReadandShare
    February 3, 2013 at 4:10 am

    Years ago... software makers often put shortcuts in the Windows Startup folder -- so their programs will execute automatically whenever Windows is started. No one does that anymore nowadays -- it's all done directly in the registry -- and shows up on system config.