Related topic: System Tray Scan Utility - identify programs that have icons in the tray.
I don't know about you, but I am saddened whenever I use a non-techie friend's computer and see more than two or three active tray icons in the Windows taskbar "system tray"*. (Usually I see six, seven, eight or even a few dozen!)
Why does it bother me? Because, most of the time, the computer owner has no idea what those icons are for, or how they got there.
It means that third-party installers (or worse, computer integrators or 'manufacturers' like Dell) have hooked more stuff into the auto start chain, which also means: more memory used, longer startup times, another prime opportunity to break the user's system with even more bloated, buggy software.
(Mis)quoting Scotty: "The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."
In my experience, QuickTime and Adobe Acrobat Reader are the worst offenders: do we really need to have an application running all the time just so we can check for updates from time to time, or to restore broken file associations? Sun's Java installer is another candidate.
Perhaps this menagerie of always-running software provides some tangible benefit to the user; in my experience, most users are totally unaware of said benefits. They have no idea why these alien visitors have landed, their purpose, or when they will leave. All they know is that their Windows computer performance stinks.
I suspect that the vendors have the best intentions in the world - "We need to install this in order to provide the best user experience, streamline support, blah blah blah" - thus putting down a new layer of pavement on the road to hell...
And why have I been invited to party on my friends' computers? Because they are complaining of sluggish performance, slow start-up, mysterious problems that started happening "when I installed blah-de-blah mumble foo" application. So, I usually do a quick audit of all the programs / services that are scheduled to start up during boot (I use
Sysinternals Microsoft's excellent Autoruns and Process Explorer utilities to find out what's running) - and remove anything that isn't essential - that is, if they don't use the program daily, it has no business camping out in the system tray, or even being in the auto start chain.
I've reached the point where, in the rare case that I actually install some nasty, bloated commercial software, I automatically use Autoruns immediately afterward to see what kind of shenanigans the installer was up to. This is the world we now inhabit - fear and loathing in installer land.
Look: If you are a software developer, or a company providing software that inserts auto-starting software into a user's machine - whether or not you show your face in the user's system tray - you owe it to the user to disclose to them, in clear and unambiguous terms, that you would like to increase the burden on their system, why you want to, the benefits as well as drawbacks, and ask the user if they want your extra junk on their machine. Failing this, your software becomes a trespasser, serving the forces of chaos.
Repent. Mend your ways. Stop dumping your crap into the auto start chain and adding gratuitous icons to the shell tray. Only then will you sleep the sleep of the just.
* Microsoft reminds us that the proper name for this is the "Notification Area", and Raymond Chen is even more adamant about it. We'll just keep calling it the tray since that's what people are used to. Feh.