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Tweaking Windows
Author: Mike Ware
Website: [warebiz] :: "The Programmer's Domain" -
Copyright © 2002 Michael S. Ware

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What is the Registry? From a beginner's perspective.

Before I start to describe the Registry in detail I want you to do one thing: backup your current Registry. This can be done by doing all of the necessary backup routines. I normally just go into the windows directory on my hard drive and look for an icon named "explorer". Right click on the icon, copy it, and then paste it in another folder on your hard drive such as "backUp". This is just for precaution purposes in case you screw up the entire Registry. You can then track down this backup Registry and get your system back up and running.

The first thing you need to know about the Registry is how to explore and manipulate it. This can be done rather easily. Simply type "regedit" without quotes in the run dialog box and hit enter. Regedit will pop up and your current Registry will be at your fingertips. Before you go stomping on the Registry through Regedit, you need to know a couple of things about what you are looking at.

The Registry is made up of several data files located in different subdirectories scattered all over your hard drive. It is different for every Windows OS version. It is important to realize that the Registry works in real-time mode. It does not wait to save changes later to disk, so if you make a mistake during a regedit session, the mistake will be a permanent one. You cannot exit regedit without saving.

If you have regedit up and running, you will notice the Registry tree in the left hand pane. The Registry tree is made up of several hives and keys that can expand into a mess rather quickly by clicking on the plus sign to the left of each parent key. To clean up the mess or close a key and its contents, simply turn the minus sign key, which means it has been expanded, into a plus sign by clicking on it. At launch, regedit points you to the last key that you had highlighted including all of the keys you had to expand to get to it. In order to get a clean startup with regedit and have every key closed, you have to highlight the very first parent key, which is My Computer, before exiting the program. When you are navigating through the Registry tree, you can set bookmarks on keys that you will need to access in later regedit sessions. You can bookmark a key by clicking on the Favorites menu and selecting add to favorites. You must have the key highlighted before you bookmark it.

Although you can very easily edit the Registry while working in regedit itself, your safest bet is to use a double patch method. The patch method lets you export a desired key that you want to edit, and then import the key back into the Registry. If you use the double patch method, you would export two copies of the key you want to edit and keep one of the copies as a backup in case you make a mistake. When saving the keys when you export them, use descriptive names so you know which key you are editing and also make sure to distinguish between the backup key and the experimental key. These exported keys are called patches because regedit automatically assigns them a .REG extension and associates them with the Registry. By double-clicking on an exported key, you can import the key into the Registry. When you import them, the imported key is modified with the contents of the exported file. This is a handy way to swap tweaks with your Registry buddies, but it also can be dangerous.

Registry patches are simple text files so you can view and edit them with a simple text editor such as Notepad. When you view the contents of an exported key, you will see the name and version of regedit on the very first line. It then lists the precise name of the key you exported including the top-level key you highlighted and all of its keys right down to your exported key.

It is important to note that importing a file to the Registry is just like appending the file to the Registry. In other words, if you make any changes to the file within quotation marks and brackets, regedit will acknowledge the changes and modify the keys contents when you import them. If you add new keys and values in the correct format, regedit will also acknowledge them. But, simply deleting a key or a value name from a patch file will not remove the file in the Registry when you import it. There is a specific way to eliminate keys, values, value names, and entire branches.

If you want to delete a branch as well as all of its keys, place a hyphen ( - ) after the opening bracket and before the hive name. Be very careful when issuing this command. For example,


will delete the Software key and any subordinate keys and values under the Software key.

If you want to delete a value within a key, keep the name of the value in tact but replace everything after the equal sign ( = ) with a hyphen ( - ). For example, if you change "Identity Ordinal"=dword:00000002 to "Identity Ordinal"=-, the value named "Identity Ordinal" will be deleted from the key.

The nice thing about using the double patch method is if you import a patch and then realize it is not correct, you can simply double-click the backup ( unchanged ) patch and restore your prior settings.

If you are the type of person who needs complete control over your system, then you may want to keep stray users out of your Registry. If you are using XP, you can restrict keys and entire hives from the different users on your system by right-clicking on the desired key or hive name and selecting permissions. Here you can do all of the restricting you need to do. You can also create certain patch files used to lock up the Registry completely and even deny yourself access to the Registry, but I won't get into the details.

That's really all you need to know about the Registry, so its time to perform your first tweak. Read on for the details of how to change the start button text; you know the little button at the bottom left of your screen that reads "start" and screams "these geeks from Redmond named me start!" so change me...

Move on to next topic: Change the Start Button Text

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