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Is there anyway to start a windows application whenever windows is started ( i.e., when the OS loads but before I log in)?

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You have to run it as a Windows Service. The easiest way to do this is to install it via SrvAny (it's in the resource kit). Microsoft KB Article KB137890 explains how to do it.

Another option, though not free, is to use a third-party tool like FireDaemon to handle creating and monitoring the service.

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Here's a similar walk-through with pictures: tacktech.com/display.cfm?ttid=197 –  Jared Harley Aug 14 '09 at 1:19
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On recent versions of Windows (read: Vista and higher) you can also use the Task Scheduler to do this. You simply need to set up a task using "On startup" as trigger.

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Only if it's installed as a service. Otherwise it has to start in an interactive session.

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You would have to run it as a Windows Service.

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