The tech helper: Don't fear the Windows Registry (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Oct 6, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Washington - Search the internet for solutions to your problems with Windows, and sooner or later you'll be told to edit the Windows Registry. You'll also be told to be extremely careful.
That's because the registry - a set of files containing myriad settings that determine how Windows looks, acts and feels to you - is critical to the ability of Windows to run. Mess it up and you could be looking at a system that doesn't work the way you expect it to, or doesn't work at all.
Now that the obligatory warnings are out of the way, know this: there's little reason to fear the registry. So long as you know how it's structured, how to edit it and how to recover from accidents, the registry will serve as your ultimate customisation tool.
It will put you in control of Windows in a way that standard adjustments or tweaking tools cannot. And while you won't want to work with the registry every day, you should be familiar with and know how to handle it if you want to feel truly in control of your personal computer.
So how can you get started? Read on for some answers.
Q: What is the Windows Registry, and where is it?
A: The registry is a set of files that contain Windows settings. The files constitute a database of hardware settings, software locations and customisations, along with user-based roles and preferences.
If you've used Windows or another tool to change almost anything about Windows - your desktop background, screensavers, sidebar or the programs that load automatically when you start Windows - you've indirectly changed a setting in the registry.
The registry files themselves are hidden on your computer - and for good reason. You wouldn't want to accidentally delete any of the files that make up the registry, and there's little reason to copy or move them manually.
If you'd like to see some of the files that make up the registry, in Vista or Windows 7 you can click the View tab in the Folder Options dialog box and enable 'Show hidden files, folders, and drives.' Then, in Windows Explorer, navigate to Windows/System32/config. But don't do anything other than look.
Q: How do I edit the registry?
A: The standard way to edit the Windows Registry is with Windows' built-in registry editor. Access it by opening the Start menu on either Vista or Windows 7 and typing 'regedit,' without the quotation marks. Click on the regedit.exe item that results.
Work with Windows' built-in registry editor for long, though, and you'll see that it's a rudimentary tool at best. Even the Search facility lacks a Replace function.
For more robust or comfortable editing, consider one of the free registry editor replacement tools on the market.
Resplendence's Registry Registrar Manager (http://www.resplendence.com/download) is a capable tool and comes in both a free and 'pro' version. Even the free version is easier to use than Windows' registry editor, and it provides helpful descriptions of registry keys and a decent Help system to get you started.
Q: I opened the registry in regedit.exe. Now what?
A: Your first task should be to get acquainted with what you see. All registry editors - whether Windows' built-in tool or a third- party tool - show the registry in a Windows Explorer-like view, with registry keys in the left-hand pane and individual settings on the right.
Registry keys look like branches, or folders, in Windows Explorer, and they serve the same function: to organize settings into categories. Each key, or branch, on the left-hand side is expandable by clicking the right-pointing arrow to the left of the key name.
There are typically five keys.
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT contains settings on file types, including which programs open specific files.
HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG holds information about the computer's hardware configuration.
HKEY_CURRENT_USER contains user-specific settings.
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE contains both hardware and software configuration information for your computer. This is the area of Regedit that people tend to spend the most time in.
HKEY_USERS contains individual preferences for each user of the PC.
Q: How do I change a setting in the registry?
A: First, you won't want to change anything in the registry unless you've found instructions from a reliable source that tell you what a change will do.
And you will want to back up your registry before making a change as well. Using a tool such as the earlier-mentioned Registrar Registry Manager makes creating a backup copy of your registry easy.
With those words of caution behind us, actually changing a registry setting - or 'value' - is pretty easy.
Use the tree in the left-hand pane of your registry editor to navigate to the value you wish to change. Right-click the value name, choose Modify from the pop-up menu, and change the 'Value data' to whatever it is that you wish.
Let's look at an example. Let's say that you've scoured the internet for ways to speed up the time it takes for Windows 7 to shut down. You discover that changing the 'WaitToKillServiceTimeout' value will speed things up considerably.
Here's how you proceed. In the registry editor, expand the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE key, followed by SYSTEM, CurrentControlSet, and Control.
With Control highlighted, you will see the value 'WaitToKillServiceTimeout' in the right-hand pane. Right-click WaitToKillServiceTimeout and choose Modify from the pop-up menu.
In the resulting Edit String dialog box, change the default setting of 12000 (for 12 seconds) to 6000 (for six seconds) or 5000 (for five seconds). Click OK. Close the Registry Editor, and you're done.
Now Windows 7 will not wait more than 5 or 6 seconds before it forcefully shuts down any applications when you issue the Shutdown command.
Editing most other values in the registry is just that easy, as well.
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