How to Access the Windows 10 Startup Folder
Do you remember the Startup Folder? It was an important part of Windows versions starting all the way back at Windows 95. The Startup Folder was a special folder that lived in the Start Menu, and any programs that were located in the Startup Folder would run whenever the computer powered on or rebooted. This was a transition from an older way of starting programs.
The Rise and Fall of Autoexec.bat
Back in the days of MS-DOS and Windows 3.1 (yes – the caveman days, when we fought dinosaurs and 640K of RAM was a lot), every time your computer started up, it looked for and executed a batch script called “autoexec.bat”. Power users, those of us who actually knew how to use all 640K of RAM, would use a text editor to modify autoexec.bat and add our personal favorite programs to the script so that they’d already be loaded when the computer came wheezing and huffing, eventually, to life.
Autoexec.bat continued to be a way of launching programs (and more commonly, to set system and environment variables) through the Windows NT years. However, Microsoft was trying to move users away from a scripted, command-line environment and to encourage the use of the graphical interface model with windows, files, and folders, and so subsequent versions of their operating systems did not require autoexec.bat, and eventually did away with it entirely.
Moving to a Graphical World
If you didn’t use a desktop computer back in the 20th century, you may not have a feel for how revolutionary operating systems like Windows 95, and the Macintosh OS over on the Apple side, felt at the time. Although Windows 95, in particular, was riddled with flaws from a modern point of view, at the time and for end users it was a fundamental shift in the way people used computers to do work. Before Windows 95, batch scripts and command-line interfaces were always the main, and usually the only, way to get your computer to do anything at all. If you wanted to run Word, you didn’t look for an icon to click; you opened a command-line interpreter and typed “winword.exe”.
Windows 95 changed all that. Although you could still perform nearly every important task using a command line (and in fact command-line interpreters are significantly more powerful and full-featured even now than they were back then), Windows 95 made it easier to do it graphically. You would click on a picture of a folder marked “Program Files” and find the icon for MS Word, and you would click on that icon and launch the program. Yes, that’s pretty much the way we do it now – but Windows 95 is when we started to do everything that way.
Enter the Startup Folder
This new way of organizing the desktop and starting programs, along with the invention of “multitasking” (it used to be a big deal for a computer to be able to do two things at once), meant that Microsoft needed to re-envision the way that users could set programs to automatically start when the computer started. One of the major innovations of Windows 95 was the creation of the Start Menu, the little flyout menu that appeared when you clicked on the “Start” button in the lower-left corner of the screen. The Start Menu is still around, although it’s been mangled a few times by the competing clans of user interface designers at Microsoft. If you have Windows 10, it’s the Windows logo in that corner. Hit the Windows key on your keyboard or click the Windows logo, and up pops…the Start Menu, Windows 10 version.
The Windows 95 Start Menu bore a lot of resemblance to today’s version, actually. As you can see, there were sections to power down the machine, to run a command in a command-line interpreter, to access the system help, to search for things, to access the settings/Control Panel, to load your documents folder, and of course, the Programs folder. And inside the Programs folder, we come finally to the Startup Folder.
Users could manually drag application shortcuts to the Startup Folder (e.g., their favorite Web browser, word processor, or media player) and these apps would automatically launch and be ready for use as soon as the user logged in (and after the program loaded, which could take a while). Many software applications would automatically place their startup icons in the Startup Folder.
Since that time, the Startup Folder was the primary way for a user to customize and automate their startup routine. The Startup Folder is still in use in Windows 10, although some of the operational details have changed. In this article, I will show you how to access and use the Startup Folder.
Starting in 2012 with the launch of Windows 8, Microsoft made a controversial move and eliminated the Start Menu. All of the functionality was still present in the operating system, they just made it harder to reach everything. Even for an operating system family whose history is littered with dumb moves driven by marketers, this move stood out. Microsoft wanted people to move to different ways of scheduling programs for automatic execution, but there was such pushback from the user community that the Start Menu was quietly brought back in with Windows 10.
Although the Start Menu returned in Windows 10, the Startup Folder no longer appears in it automatically. However, it still functions, even though there’s no clear and easy method to access the folder from the Start Menu.
A Tale of Two Folders
One important thing to understand is that there are now two Startup Folder locations in Windows 10. There is one folder that operates at the system level and is shared among all user accounts, and then there is another folder that operates at the user level and is unique to each user on the system. That is, if you have a Windows 10 PC with multiple accounts, there will be a unique Startup Folder for each of those accounts in addition to the universal Startup Folder that applies to everyone.
For example, consider a PC with two user accounts: one account for Jane and one account for John. A shortcut for Microsoft Edge is placed, somewhat implausibly, in the All Users Startup Folder and a shortcut for Notepad is placed in the Startup Folder for the Jane user account. When Jane logs into Windows, both Microsoft Edge and Notepad will launch automatically, but when John logs into his account, only Edge will launch.
The distinction between the All Users and Current User Startup Folders may seem trivial, but it’s important to remember if you’re troubleshooting why a certain application isn’t opening, or when working with certain applications that feature user-based licensing or access restrictions. When in doubt, check to ensure that both Startup Folder locations are configured properly.
Direct Path to the Windows 10 Startup Folder
You can navigate directly to both the All Users and Current User Startup Folders in Windows 10 using the following paths. Note that you can either navigate to these paths via File Explorer, or copy and paste the relevant path in the Run box, which can be accessed by pressing Windows Key + R on your keyboard. If you opt to use File Explorer, note that you’ll need to enable the “Show Hidden Files” option in order to see certain folders in the path.
The Current User Startup Folder is located here:
C:\Users\[User Name]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup
With either location open in File Explorer, you can drag and drop application shortcuts to configure these applications to launch when the current user or all users log in. You don’t need any particular permissions to drag application shortcuts into your own user-level Startup Folder, but you’ll need admin rights and face a UAC prompt when adding items to the All Users Startup Folder.
Shortcut to the Windows 10 Startup Folder
Instead of navigating to each Startup Folder’s path in File Explorer (and potentially having to enable the “Show Hidden Files” option), you can jump directly to each folder with a Run command.
To quickly access the All Users Startup Folder in Windows 10, open the Run dialog box (Windows Key + R), type shell:common startup, and click OK. A new File Explorer Window will open displaying the All Users Startup Folder.
For the Current User Startup Folder, open the Run dialog and type shell:startup.
Windows 10 Startup Folder Launch Order
As a final note, it’s important to mention that the items you place in your All Users or Current User Startup Folders won’t launch immediately upon logging in to your Windows 10 account. Windows will first load its necessary system processes and any items in the Task Manager’s Startup tab, and then launch your Startup Folder items. For most users, these initial steps won’t take long and you’ll see your designated Startup Folder apps launch within a second or two of reaching the Windows 10 desktop. But if you have lots of first- and third-party applications and services already configured to launch at boot, it may take a few moments to see your Startup Folder items appear.
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