A program I’ve found highly useful of late is Windows Startup Inspector. It does something Windows XP should do, but doesn’t: Allow you to decide what programs do and don’t start when Windows does. It sounds dumb until you realise that most programs these days — including a lot that should know better — automatically load themselves, or bits of themselves, into memory when you boot up. It can seriously slow down your computer, and there’s no straightforward way to fix the problem in Windows XP. It’s a bit like the next door neighbour cadging a lift to work everyday without asking.
Startup Inspector lists all these annoying programs, and will even try to tell you more about them than merely their name, via an online database of some 3,400 known programs. I have disabled about half of the programs that have loaded themselves uninvited and it definitely helps, even when you’ve got lots of memory to play with. They hog memory, but they also take time to load. Even sneaky little programs like RealNetworks’ Tkbell.exe (a silly little reminder program) will try to reload itself automatically into your start-up queue whenever you use the RealPlayer (my advice: don’t use it if you can possibly help it.)
Windows Startup Inspector is Freeware. If you like it you can make a donation to the author, through PayPal. Or you can buy his laptop, which he seems to be selling on eBay. Hard times for software authors?