Sometimes I feel like a bouncer, walking in the crowd of a private club searching for people who slipped in, but don't belong. Oh, they're sneaky alright -and sometimes hard to kick out. They'll pop up on the property and just loiter, taking up space, trying to be seen. I'm talking about programs that clutter up my taskbar with their pretty little icons in the lower right corner of my PC's screen.

Many people mistakenly call this area the "system tray" or just "tray," but Microsoft's official name for this special place that software loves to plant icons is the "notification area."

On the first boot of a new XP operating system there are only a few icons in the notification area: time, volume control, and maybe a battery meter if it's a laptop. After only a few software installations, icons accumulate there, each representing a program that is using some of the computer's resources. I realize that I probably agreed to their creation when I clicked "I Accept" under the fine print of the software license agreement, but I still perceive most of them as clutter.

Getting rid of these programs (or otherwise preventing them from launching) can be tricky. Courteous software will allow you to choose whether to display an icon or not. Inconsiderate software seems to weld the icon in place without even allowing a right click to remove it.

There are several places for programs to launch on a PC -as malware and virus authors know too well. If you open a program and look in its preferences or options you may find a checkbox to disable an automatic launch.

Another place programs launch automatically is in the Startup folder. Click the Start button, go to All Programs and you'll see it. Any program icons in Startup will launch with the computer, so remove any icons that are unnecessary.

Finally, if you are unable to prevent a program from launching by either of the above methods, then it is probably launched in the computer's registry. You can edit the registry by clicking Start > Run and then type "regedit." Locate the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRun.

In the right pane you will see programs that launch automatically with the computer. If you see the program you wish to prevent from starting, right-click it and select "Delete." Note: This method is risky and should be done with extreme care.* If you want to disable a program that you don't use, it is safer to simply uninstall it.

After I cleaned about two inches worth of tiny icons from my notification area, my computer is running like an exclusive club again. Instead of playing 'bouncer" I can relax and enjoy the invited guests!

*Microsoft states that serious problems might occur if you modify the registry incorrectly by using Registry Editor or by using another method. These problems might require that you reinstall your operating system. Modify the registry at your own risk.

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