Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Need Traffic Control on Boot-up? – Call the Cops!
by Alan German

I'm a long-time fan of utility programs from PC Magazine so, when I saw Startup Cop Pro advertised as a way to control applications loading on boot-up, I couldn't resist giving this program a workout.

However, there is a downside from the good old days. PC Mag's utilities are no longer free; one has to subscribe in order to download the software. The good news is that an annual subscription is only US$ 20.00 (and sometimes you can find a special offer that includes a subscription to the electronic version of the magazine). Once subscribed, you can download any of the magazine's extensive collection of utility programs, and subscribe to a listserver to receive notification of new releases. Other options include purchasing three utilities for $US 10.00, or a single download for $US 6.00.

Downloading and installing Startup Cop Pro gives you your very own Sheriff's badge - a program icon in the form of a five-pointed star. Running Startup Cop, produces a colourful list of programs available for startup by the operating system, and flags those currently running. The table provides a range of information such as the program name, the software developer, the threat level (e.g. Major Vendor vs. Spyware), where the startup entry is located (e.g. startup directory vs. registry), and which users can access the program. A set of drop-down menus allows the list of programs to be filtered by category.


Startup Cop Pro informing the user that the Zone-Alarm firewall loads from a Registry entry at startup.

Clicking on a specific filename in the list provides further detail about the selected item, including the file path and command line entry, a link to the program developer's web site, or a set of related Google search results (if you have an open Internet connection). Even the basic information can be very useful. For example, on my system, the program prpcui.exe (one of those with the intuitive names!), is evidently Intel software - "SpeedStep™ Technology User Interface". I still don't know what it actually does, but I'm pretty sure I need/want it.

Changing the status of a given program is simplicity itself. Click on the program's name to highlight the entry and toggle between Disable and Enable using menu buttons in the form of red and green traffic lights. Having trouble with a renegade program that decided it just had to be loaded at boot-up? No problem, just disable it and it won't trouble you again. If you are really brave, you can use the Delete button. And, if you really know what you are doing, you can manually add a new entry to the table.

A concise, but extremely informative, help system can guide you through any such process. The help menu provides a series of screens with coloured illustrations of all the various menus and controls for the program, together with clear information on the use of each of the latter.

Changing Startup Cop's options is just a matter of checking or unchecking various options in a dialogue box, including some for the format for the display of the program list, and if/how to check for and obtain program updates from PC Magazine. The latter consist of revised entries for the database of material to be displayed for specific programs.

A similar menu allows for changing the settings for how a given program is to be allowed to run. In addition to running normally, a program can be set to run at a specific time or on certain days; program launch can be delayed in time or until after another program is running, or a network connection has been established. No doubt, great stuff - if you need such features.

One item that you may wish to modify from the default settings is "Check for updates" by changing this from "At program startup" to "Do not check for updates". If you don't have a permanent connection to the Internet on boot-up, Startup Cop will bug you with a request for access to the web in order to seek out updates. By choosing not to allow this you effectively take manual control of the updating process. Since the program is not likely to be needed on a daily basis to control errant software, such a course of action is probably appropriate for most of us.

In fact, one interesting wrinkle in this entire process is that there is no entry in Startup Cop's program list for Startup Cop Pro itself - so, who polices the policeman? I suppose this is reasonable. The program actively monitors startup entries and will issue a prompt if software attempts to add a new entry. Obviously, it has to be running in order to function like this in real time. Also, if one has set some specific options, such as timing, then the program has to run every time the machine boots up in order to control the startup of these other programs.

But, if all you want to do is to occasionally stop an errant program from loading, it's a little intrusive for Startup Cop to load itself into memory all the time. One way to deal with this is to uninstall the program (rather a Draconian solution!) The documentation suggests that if Startup Cop Pro is uninstalled, any disabled items can be re-enabled so that nothing will be lost. But, another method of preventing Startup Cop from loading automatically, is to use a different utility to turn it off! So, let's call a good cop…

In the past, I have used StartUp Control Panel to disable errant programs from loading. Version 2.7 of this program is available from PUB II as SRTCPLEX.ZIP. But, also check the associated files STRTCPL.ZIP and SRTCPL27.ZIP since each of these contains the instructions as a readme.txt file.

StartUp Control Panel is more or less a no-frills version (some would say efficiently programmed version) of Startup Cop Pro. It was written by Mike Lin, now a computer science student at MIT. He has written several utilities and makes them available on the web. Mike has quite a sense of humour about his programs. Tongue-firmly-in-cheek, he lists a Microsoft Knowledge Base bug report for one of his utilities on the awards' page of his web site! Mike's site at
http://www.mlin.net is well worth a visit.

This freeware (small donation requested) utility provides a simple screen display with a series of tabs, including Startup (user), Startup (common), HKLM/Run, and HKCU/Run, that list programs set to start for the current user, all users, or load from registry entries under HKEY_LOCAL MACHINE and HKEY_CURRENT_USER. Check boxes control if programs listed under these tabs are enabled or disabled, and right clicking on a program name brings up a menu with a variety of options including edit the program's properties, delete an entry, and run now.

It turns out that Startup Cop Pro is loaded from a registry entry under the HKCU/Run tab. Removing the check mark in the box is a simple way to temporarily prevent the program from running at startup. One can always run it manually, from the on-screen icon set up during installation, or by running the executable, StartupCopPro.exe, from its installed location. Of course, as noted above, such a course of action will limit the program's functionality.

So, if you have a renegade program (or two) on your machine that insists on loading, taking up memory, resources, and task bar real estate, take control. For a few dollars, you can get the all-singing, all-dancing Startup Cop Pro (and the opportunity to download more of PC Mag's great utilities). Or, log onto PUB II and download the freeware program: Startup Control Panel. Either program can readily disable specific software from loading at boot up.


Bottom Line:

Startup Cop Pro
US$6.00 to 20.00 subscription
PC Magazine
http://www.pcmag.com

Start Up Control Panel
Freeware; donation requested
Mike Lin
http://www.mlin.net/StartupCPL.shtml
or PUB II - Area 68 - Miscellaneous Utilities
http://opcug.ca/default.htm (members' area)
SRTCPLEX.ZIP (38 KB)


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Ottawa Personal Computer Users Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

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