Microsoft System Configuration Utility

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by Dan DiNicolo

One of the tools included with Windows XP is the System Configuration Utility, a diagnostic program that automates routine troubleshooting tasks. This is the same tool that Microsoft Technical Support engineers will use when walking you through a system with problems. Giving it a look might save you a great deal of time and effort when attempting to solve system issues. 

The tool itself is not the easiest to find since it isn't displayed in any part of the standard interface. It can be reached by digging around in Help and Support a little, but most easily by simply opening up the run command and typing in msconfig. The main benefit of this tool is that is provides you with a simple and effective way of troubleshooting system issues by the process of elimination. The main element that it controls is the boot environment, and allows you to control which drivers, services, startup programs, system.ini and win.ini files are loaded during bootup. You can control the elements as a group, or get more granular and control them individually - the idea being that the tool will ultimately allow you to isolate a system boot issue. You can even use it to customize the boot.ini file if you choose.

Opening the System Configuration Utility will present you with the screen shot shown below. The System Configuration Utility in Windows XP is an extremely useful diagnostic program that automates routine troubleshooting tasks. Use it wisely, and you might just eliminate those service startup errors for good, plus you can finally find a quick and simple way to get rid of the auto-startup Windows Messenger and its persistently annoying .Net Passport prompts.

Notice that the General tab allows you to control general groupings of the system startup elements, or choose from a normal or diagnostic startup. If you note the bottom of the screen above, you can even create a modified boot.ini file and choose to boot from that instead of the original version.

The tool also includes the ability to extract and restore system files from the installation source via the Expand File button - a useful feature in the case of a corrupted file. It also gives you quick access to the System Restore feature that I described in a previous article. Make a mistake using the tool, and you can easily move back to a previous restore point to get where you were before. The contents of the Expand File button are shown below.

The System.ini tab will allow you to control what this file loads, just like most of the other screens in this tool do. Note that you not only can enable and disable elements from starting, but you can also control the order in which they start by using the Move Up and Move Down buttons shown.

Note that new elements can be added using the New button, and existing ones can be edited using the Edit button on the right. Be sure to expand the various elements, which can sometimes hide much longer lists.

The Win.ini tab is very similar to the System.ini tab, so move to the Boot.ini tab, as it offers different choices. This tab actually allows you to add and edit options relating to the Boot.ini file.

Notice the options for adding alternate options and switches to the file. A couple of these are actually hidden behind the Advanced Options button, and include options for debugging and so forth. The Check All Boot Paths button will make sure that your boot paths are correct. If ok, you should see the following message:

One unfortunate element here is that you can't actually change the ARC path in the interface, only add or change options. If you have multiple ARC paths in your file, you can move them up or down as well.

The Services tab allows you to quickly enable or disable services from booting. Although you can't get at their advanced startup parameters from here, I think you'll agree that it provides a simple and effective way to quickly enable or disable services for the purpose of troubleshooting.

Finally, the Startup tab is unusually helpful. It actually allows you to go in and painlessly disable programs that have added themselves to start automatically. The reason I like it? It helped me easily get rid of the annoying MSN Messenger in Windows XP that keeps bugging me to get my .Net Passport multiple times per day!

If you have programs that were disabled when you upgraded from a previous operating system version, they can be restored using the Restore Startup Programs button.

I think you'll agree that the System Configuration Utility provides a useful interface for providing a clean troubleshooting environment in Windows XP. Use it wisely, and you might just eliminate those service startup errors for good.


This article was originally published on Feb 25, 2002
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