REGEDIT: Should I or shouldn't I?

Much like guests being required to register at the hotel's front desk, all operating system programs and applications running on every Windows operating system since Windows 95, are required to be registered in order to be allowed “in.” The registry is actually a database containing all the settings for configuration variables that allow it to run on the operating system and use its resources. Back in the old days, when you wanted to install a new application, you popped in a diskette and the installation program created a subdirectory off the C: drive and an .ini file which contained all of the application-specific settings. The registry was a means of cleaning up that mess that had been created and introduce a new controlled way of installing programs and setting configurations and defaults. A formal uninstall process then, not only removed the programs but, removed any specific registry entries associated with that program. The problem is that upon other than installation or de-installation, there was no easy way to address problems when the registry information wasn’t correct. Enter: regedit. You run regedit from the command line. In Windows XP, you would click on the Start button; choose the Run icon and, type regedit. In Vista and Windows 7, you will access the run command from need to use Start Search. In all 3 operating systems, you can use the Windows button on your keyboard and the R key.

Under what circumstances would you, or should you edit the registry? Even with the intention of being your system’s gatekeeper, the Windows registry can be imperfect. At times programs that are uninstalled leave traces of themselves behind in the registry. Certain Trojan horse viruses, even after they are removed, leave registry problems in their wake. There are literally hundreds of “tweaks” you can do by editing the registry that will make the operating system more convenient for you. For example, modifying how some menus appear in certain Microsoft applications. Finally, a slowing computer may be symptomatic of a “dirty” registry. Leftover entries from uninstalled programs and registry entries for versions of software that have been superseded by other more recent versions can all cause registry clutter. There are good reasons to edit the registry, but all “graceful methods” of making your desired changes should be tried first. Why? Changing the registry is like doing surgery to fix a problem that an aspirin and 3 day’s rest would serve equally well. If there is a setting in an Options menu that will change what you want, use that, rather than editing the registry.

How do I edit the registry? All reputable information sites, including Microsoft.com advise you to do a backup and/or set a system restore point before making any changes. This is great advice, considering that a bad regedit experience can leave your computer virtually unusable. If you have committed to making a change in the registry, don’t “cowboy” it. Take all the recommended precautions that protect you against accidental “fat fingering” a change. There are specific purpose and general purpose regedit utilities for free and for purchase. Given what regedit does, caution is advised. A less than reputable developer who can offer you a quick and free solution to an aggravating problem via a registry edit utility can also use the registry to implant dangerous information. Less dire, but just as disreputable is the developer who after cleaning your registry of annoying problems, leave a recurring, non-stop message that pops up to prompt you to buy the pay version of the program. Do your homework and research all utilities thoroughly before choosing which product to use.

After making your back-ups and setting your restore points, but before beginning to edit the registry, record what settings were before you changed them. While a restore is doable if you made a back up, simply setting back the entry is easier. After you execute the regedit program you will see a tree diagram on the left, similar to the folder view in Windows Explorer. As you click on the pluses and to expand the various levels of registry entries of each system and application.

Most operating systems can survive an amount of registry clutter and don’t need to be cleaned up. However, if you choose to tidy up your registry, proceed with caution and have a back-up plan in case things don’t go as you would like them to.