The tweaker's guide to the Windows Registry

Want to hack Windows? Better get familiar with the Registry first. Here's what you need to know

Read Preston's Ultimate Tweaker's Guide to Windows here

If you plan on tweaking any version of Windows, you're going to have to get friendly with the Windows Registry, a database of information that defines how your PC works, including every part of Windows and its applications and interface. Editing the Registry is often the best way to tweak Windows. In fact, it's the only way to make certain changes.

Even if you've never edited the Registry directly before, you've changed it without realizing it. Whenever you change just about any setting in Windows via a menu or some other method, a Registry change is made behind the scenes, putting that new setting into effect. The menus and dialog boxes you see in Windows are often little more than a visual front end to the Registry.

But knowing how to find your way around the Registry gives you access to many more controls than Windows' menus and dialog boxes provide. To edit the Registry directly, use Windows' built-in Registry Editor.

At first glance, the Registry is a maze of apparently incomprehensible settings, overwhelming in their complexity. In fact, though, there's some method to the madness. In this article, I'll explain how the Registry works, give you an overview of its organization and offer detailed instructions on how to edit it.

Editor's note: We're assuming that any Registry edits you make will be on your own computer. Always check with your IT department before altering a company-owned machine.

Careful!

Editing the Windows Registry is easy -- perhaps too easy. There is no Save button in the Registry. When you modify a value, it changes right then and there. There is also no Undo button. Once you make the change, it's done. If you're not careful, you could do serious harm to your computer setup, your applications and the way Windows works.

So before you touch the Registry, use System Restore to create a restore point so that you can revert to the previous version of the Registry if something goes awry. It's also a good idea, once you begin editing the Registry, to write down the current state of any key or value you plan to edit before you make any changes.

Creating a restore point

To create a restore point in Windows Vista, choose Control Panel --> System and Maintenance --> Restore files from backup --> Create a restore point or change settings.

In XP, choose Start --> Help and Support --> Performance and Maintenance --> Using System Restore to undo changes --> Run the System Restore Wizard --> Create a restore point and answer the wizard's questions.

Reverting to a restore point

To revert to a system restore point in Vista, select Control Panel --> System and Maintenance --> Restore files from backup --> Repair Windows Using System Restore and follow the directions for reverting to a restore point.

In XP, follow the same steps you would to create a restore point (above). When you get to the System Restore Wizard, choose Restore my computer to an earlier time and answer the wizard's questions.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Preston Gralla

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?