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How to Identify Unknown Startup Programs in the Windows Task Manager

Posted by Jim Tanous on September 17, 2015
windows pc question mark

Like its predecessors, the Windows 10 Task Manager lets you see and control which programs and services are configured to launch when you boot into Windows. Most Windows programs, and their associated services, are easily identifiable — Dropbox, NVIDIA, Adobe Creative Cloud, etc. — but sometimes you’ll encounter a program that doesn’t offer any clue as to its creator or purpose. Here’s how to find out exactly what these unknown startup programs are doing.
First, let’s take a look at the Task Manager for our example PC in the screenshot below. We see that most entries configured for Windows Startup are clearly identifiable, either via the name of the app or service, or via the “Publisher” column. For example, “AcroTray” may not be immediately recognizable, but when paired with “Adobe Systems Inc.” in the Publisher column, it becomes clear that this is related to Adobe Acrobat.
windows task manager unknown program
You’ll notice, however, that one Startup program in Task Manager is far more mysterious. Its name is simply “Program” and it has no publisher information. How can we determine what the heck this thing is?
The trick is to identify what the unknown Startup program is doing by revealing more information about the resources it is accessing on your PC. This can be accomplished by enabling additional information columns in Task Manager.
From the Startup tab of Task Manager, right-click on the header column. This will display a list of additional columns that provide more information on each Startup program or service, such as how much CPU time it consumes when you log in to Windows. The column we’re interested in is Command Line.
windows task manager unknown program command line column
After selecting Command Line from the Startup display options, a new column will appear at the far right of your Task Manager (you may need to resize your Task Manager window to see it). This displays the location of any local resources that the unknown program or service is accessing when it’s run.
windows task manager unknown program
In our example, we see that our unknown “Program” is associated with “iCloudServices.exe,” an Apple program that enables access to the company’s iCloud features in Windows. Based on this information, we can decide if the unknown program is worth enabling at Startup.
The Command Line column can be useful if you’re frequently investigating the origin of Windows programs and processes, but if you prefer a Task Manager that is as compact as possible, you can quickly turn this column off again when you’re done by right-clicking on the header column and clicking “Command Line” again to deselect it.

8 thoughts on “How to Identify Unknown Startup Programs in the Windows Task Manager”

John Smart says:
Very useful info! Thank you.
I was wondering about this for a long long time. Now I know Thanks to you.
Reply
Lateo says:
Excellent, thank you!
Reply
Cafulhaes says:
Great post. Thanks!
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Antti K. Ristus says:
I just found that “program”. I right clicked it but the “Command line” is not there.
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Sandeep Yohans says:
Right click on the Publisher/Status/Startup impact, you will get Command line option there.
Reply
Antti K. Ristus says:
I forgot that case completely. I checked it out but this “program” is not there anymore. Is that normal?
Chase Heisler says:
How do I get the “Command Line” To appear when I R-click?
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Vedran Kasalica says:
thank you very much, very useful information
Reply
David Silk says:
Thanks for the information. Would never have worked that out by myself!
Reply
bobdeloyd says:
good to know! Thanks 🙂
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