There are many things going on when Windows boots, including loading core system files, loading system drivers and also loading Windows services. A Windows service is a small program designed to run in the background in order to help other programs and applications function. One advantage with a service is it can automatically restart itself if you kill its running process. This is useful for Windows components and important software such as your backup or antivirus applications.
Services control much of the workings of Windows, such as WiFi and networking, updates, themes, printing, plug and play, search, firewall and much more. Any third party software can also install its own service to help it function. A service can be started, stopped, disabled, started manually when required or automatically when Windows boots. This comes in useful for troubleshooting software or Windows problems when it might be necessary to disable a service or change its behavior.
In order to do that you need to know how to view the services and correctly determine which ones you need to look at. Windows has a built-in tool to view all available services on the system. Go to Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Services, alternatively type Services.msc into Start or the Win+R Run dialog. From there you can view or configure service behavior.
One issue with the Windows Services console is it does not visually differentiate between services used by Windows itself and services installed by other software. There are hundreds of services in this window and you have no option of sorting the entries by the manufacturer or hiding services you probably shouldn’t touch. That makes it more difficult for users to know what services can safely be reconfigured and what could cause even bigger problems if messed around with.
1. Windows System Configuration Tool
Although you can obviously view all the services on your computer with the Services.msc Control Panel applet, there is another option. The built-in Windows System Configuration Tool, otherwise known as Msconfig, also displays the list of services in addition to startup items, boot options, and a selective/minimal startup.
Press the Win key on your computer or click on Start and type msconfig to open the System Configuration Tool. Then click on the Services tab.
All system services are listed by default and you can easily enable or disable services on an individual basis with the checkboxes or all services at once using the buttons near the bottom. You can also sort the services by the manufacturer by clicking the column header. Check the “Hide all Microsoft services” box to show only third-party services. This option has a drawback though as other services made by Microsoft, such as Office or Visual Studio, will also be hidden.
2. Advanced Windows Service Manager
SecurtiyXploded makes over two hundred password and security related utilities. Advanced Windows Service Manager is an easy to use program that displays the services on your system and gives you basic control over each one. Although it’s only a single executable that can be used portably, you have to either install Advanced Windows Service Manager and copy the .exe from the Program Files folder or use Universal Extractor to unpack the installer.
Something the program focuses on is service security which is done with a series of colors ranging from yellow (analysis required) to orange (suspicious), to red (dangerous). By default, it displays running non-system services but this can be changed by clicking on the drop-down list and then the Refresh button. The other choices are showing only running system services, all services, all running services, all system services and all non-system services. Make sure to run Advanced Windows Service Manager as administrator or it will show an error on startup.
3. NirSoft ServiWin
Most experienced Windows users will know and love many of NirSoft’s utilities. ServiWin is another one that comes in incredibly useful. In addition to services, ServiWin is also able to list and change the status of installed drivers. There is an installer version but ServiWin is best used as a portable tool which is only around 100KB in size. Make sure to download the correct 32-bit or 64-bit version.
By default, ServiWin shows installed drivers in its window. Switch to showing services by pressing the button in the toolbar or F8. Listed services are color coded to show started (blue), disabled (red) or auto start (purple). A service can be started, stopped, paused/continued and restarted or have its startup type changed. Go into the Options menu and choose the bottom option “Show Only Non-Windows Services” to hide system services but leave third party and other Microsoft services visible.
4. System Explorer
System Explorer is one of the most feature rich and comprehensive Windows Task Manager replacements around. Sadly development seems to have stalled in the last year or two. As well as the Services feature we are looking at, System Explorer also has viewer windows for drivers, network connections, autoruns, uninstallers, WMI, security, general system information and even a registry snapshot tool. The portable version is no longer available from the official website.
The Services window can be viewed by adding a new tab or from the tree view down the left-hand side. The window itself is split into two service types, Started and Stopped. The option to hide Microsoft services is the Windows logo button at the top but like others, it will hide all services from Microsoft. Services can start, stop, have the startup type changed, opened in Regedit or searched for online. One annoyance is a donate bar that appears when you start System Explorer.
5. Puran Service Manager
Puran software makes a number of interesting utilities, many of which are integrated into the Puran Utilities suite. The Service Manager program hasn’t been updated since 2013 but it’s relatively simple and easy to use. Although it only comes as a setup installer you can unpack the installer with Universal Extractor to have your own portable version.
The main window in Puran Service Manager is quite similar to Msconfig with check boxes to enable or disable individual services. There’s also a button to start/stop a service and one to verify its digital signature. The “Hide all Microsoft services” check box is placed bottom right. Like some other tools here it will hide all Microsoft services, Windows specific or otherwise.
6. AnVir Task Manager Free
Like System Explorer above, AnVir Task Manager is another Windows Task Manager replacement that’s loaded with functions and features. This program has several quite advanced features and is perhaps geared more towards experienced users. Although there is a premium paid version of AnVir, there is a free edition as well, which is also available in portable form. Be aware that some security software doesn’t like AnVir and will incorrectly classify the executables as suspicious.
In the Services tab, there are options to start, stop, change startup type and delete a service in addition to searching online and showing the potential security risk of the service. The filtering options at the top are very useful because they allow you to selectively hide only Windows services and/or other Microsoft services as well. Check a box to show the type of service and uncheck to hide. Double clicking on a service opens a lower pane with a whole host of extra information.
7. PC Services Optimizer
PC Services Optimizer is a little different to the other tools here. Its main purpose is to optimize your computer by disabling services that are not required. It can do this with an automated tune-up, a manual tune-up, a game specific mode and through user-created service profiles. Although you may or may not find those features useful, for the purposes of this article we are more interested in the Services Manager feature.
With the Services Manager, you can start, stop, change the startup type, delete and even create a new service. There’s also the option to backup all service settings before changing anything. By default, all services are listed but separated as Microsoft and non-Microsoft. To hide the Microsoft services completely, click the Settings button and select “Non-Microsoft services”. PC Services Optimizer has the same problem as Msconfig in that all Microsoft services are hidden, whether they are Windows services or for third party Microsoft software.