Tweak your computer with registry hacks, Part 1: Introduction

In the past I have written a number of “How to” articles on dotTech explaining how to do various tasks, such blocking Flash ads in Internet Explorer. I’ve decided to continue with my series of “How to” articles. (Ignore the fact that this isn’t titled “How to”.) However, now I am going to take it up a notch; instead of simple install this, change that type of topic, I’m going to tell you about some nifty Windows’ registry hacks, or Windows tweaks – whichever you prefer to call them.

Now whether you like the registry or not it (although I am sure many people are indifferent on their feelings towards the registry), is a very powerful tool and if used correctly it can be used to customize your computer so it was more the way you want it to be, or it can just simply make your computer run better.  However, as with super heroes, “with great power comes great responsibility”.  One wrong move in the registry can, at best, make something happen you didn’t mean to and, at worst, make your computer crash, burn, and die.  To help avoid either situation, this first article on registry hacks will explain what the registry is, how it works, what it can do, and provide precautionary tips on what to do to avoid trouble in the future; subsequent articles will then expand on the nifty hacks/tweaks I have to share.

As a general rule of thumb, before starting to work with the registry, you want to:

  1. Back up your files. Yes backing up the registry is important, but your files are more important. Think about it: do you really care that much about the registry because you like the registry or do you care about the registry because if the registry is messed up you will lose your files? Backing up your files ensures if the worst does happen, you still have your files. If only specific, or a few number of, files are important to you use a file backup software like GFI Backup. If your whole computer is is important, use an image backup software – Ashraf has mentioned many before. Image backup will be more comprehensive and more appreciated by you if something does go wrong; however image backup will also be slower and take up more space.
  2. Back up your registry. When the registry messes up, sometimes everything can be fixed by simply restoring the backup you have. However, not all the times – sometimes you may not even be able to access the registry if someone goes wrong – so don’t depend on your backup to be a know-all-fix-all solution. Yet, you still should have it. You can backup your registry many different ways. Some mehods are to use CCleaner or GFI Backup, or just open up Regedit, go to “File” -> “Export”.
  3. Create a System Restore Point so that you can try to fix any problems that do occur. System Restore is the easiest way to try to undo a problem. Sure it may not necessarily always undo the problem you are looking to fix, but it is the quickest and most convenient method – the first step you should almost always try before resorting to other measures.
  4. Read this whole post 10 times. Make sure you know what you are doing.

In general, registry hacks can be divided in to two groups: hacks that help personalize the system and hacks that change how the system works. Personalization hacks change things like the Context Menu (that menu that pops up when you right click) or icons that files use.  System hacks change things like what shell Windows’ will use.  For the most part, I will focus on personalization hacks since they are less dangerous.

The registry is organized like your file system with “drives” called Hives, “folders” called Keys, and “files” called Values.  There are five Hives in the registry, though we will only be dealing with three of them: Classes Root, Local Machine, and Current User:

  • Classes Root (HKCR) has the settings for extensions. It stores all the information about how to handle files’ types, like what it’s called, what context menu to show, what icon to show, what to do when double clicking it, etc.
  • Local Machine (HKLM) stores settings for all users, like the computer’s name and information about the hardware.
  • Current User (HKCU) stores settings for the current users, like what wallpaper to show.

Under each Hive are Keys that, like folders on your computer, can contain other Keys.  In both HKLM and HKCU there is a Key called Software, and under it you would find a key for most companies that you have installed software from.  In each company Key, you will find Keys for software from them, which should contain settings and information about the program.

In each Key, besides containing other Keys, there can also be Values, which store the actual information.  A Value is made up of three parts: Name, Type, and Data. The Name is simply a name for the Value and can be anything, like how you can name a file. The Type tells the system what kind of data is being stored. The two we will be dealing with are REG_SZ which means a string of text and REG_DWORD which means some number from 0 to 4,294,967,295. Data will contain, well, the data associated with that Value. All the hacks/tweaks I will discuss will be accomplished by changing, mixing, matching, cloning, etc. the Keys, and Values.

Now, I think that’s enough for you to take in. As I said, reread this post 10 times so you know exactly what you are dealing with. Next time I’ll show you some real hacks!

Share this post

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

29 comments

  1. Shades

    So… I’m already 4 months late reading this and I got pretty excited about the series and where you were going with it, so I searched the site, but can’t find Parts 2-100!  =:-)  When are you going to publish the next Part?

    I hope you haven’t been discouraged.  I look forward to having a “personal” guide take me through some of the registry tweaks you’ve mentioned.  I can’t wait.  Don’t be afraid, Samuel.  You have given fair warning to those who might do damage.  The rest of us want to jump into the good stuff.  Waiting ever-so-patiently.

    Ian.

  2. Ken Stewart

    Thank you for leaving the post #18 & 20. People need to know what really goes on with Microsoft & their sources of money & power within the internet – no one has any privacy. Again, we must be able to catch the bad people but why should it include everyone?

    I got an anonymous note acusing me of being a moron – so be it, but I’ll be safe when no else truely is.

    And thank you for this website and information.

    Ken

  3. greg

    Just because you’re not paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

    I look forward to the series. Even if the registry is just a tool of the vast conspiracy to gather all the information. It means I can leave them nasty messages. Oh, yeah, and fix my system the way I like.

  4. kcs3295

    Samual, this has nothing to do with bad programming except upon the part of Micro$oft and their sneaky intents.

    You may be able to bs your way thru most of this but you definately lack the true abilities to understand the intent and the ability by microsoft and others to access info placed in peoples pc’s and the way such info can be obtained and used, and certainly not be found or deleteable by most any software developer offering to do so, and they still take the peoples money offering to do this.

    Obiviously you are a a Micro$oft trained and brain-washed technical person.

    The registry is as the word defines – register and retain any and all info that M$ has agreed to with the Fed’s in an effort to stay on their good side as anyone could imagine. I’ll be good to you if you will to be good to me meaning M$ so as to be able to report anything the Feds may desire.

    Not necessarily all bad but still intrusive to people’s privacy.

    No disrespect intended to you directly and most likely somewhat off subject – but still people need to know they have no rights to their privacy and M$ has done this intentionally, and is nothing more than a whore to money and the powers that be and collect the money from every source they can find.

    This post will mostlikey be deleted so who is actually going to tell people what Micro$oft is actually doing. Delete it since I have saved this to post elsewhere.

    Ken

  5. Samuel
    Author/

    @kcs3295: “…anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”, Man I love Star Wars. Ok on to what you’ve asked.

    You have touched upon one of the main problem the registry has, though this is true in many places, and that is BAD program(s/ing). But I’m not going to get into that since it’s an endless debate.

    Now the one part of your comment I can answer is why Windows has a Remote Registry Service. The answer is that it’s there for three reasons mostly:
    1) For remote Debugging
    2) For remote Diagnostic/Fixing
    3) For remote Management
    None of those are malicious in any way. But like most things it can be used for bad. Remember it’s not the tool that is bad but how it’s used.

  6. kcs3295

    What would be most interesting would be the keys or values that lock unnecessary software tracking abilities of the Windows O/S’s. There are way too many junk and porn website tracking abilities with Windows, and those are placed in the registry on purpose, and my experience so far is these cannot be deleted.

    Yeah, right, Micro$oft wouldn’t look at any of that info when people update their O/S with your security patches. Think of the people who bought a used pc that cannot re-install the O/S.

    A simular post was deleted before about M$ O/S’s being spyware themselves. I do intend to build a clean registry for my pc’s.

    And please show people how to disable remote registry access under start > run > services.msc – why would this even exist?

    Ken

  7. o(o.o)o

    Well aside from backing up the registry, another good practice before tweaking is to do it first in a virtual environment. Use VirtualBox if you have another windows license lying around or if not, use Returnil before applying the tweak.

  8. sos4ever

    Great article Samuel, I can personally attest to “mucking up” the registry where you have to start all over, not with a PC or a laptop but with a Windows mobile phone. An important point to bring up, IMHO, is to do one registry modification and see if it has achieved the desired result. My one and only muck up was when I did about 10 hacks to the registry and then could not figure out which one screwed things up. LOL I am looking forward to your next article. Thank you Ashraf for making your blog available to so many talented people to write intelligent articles.

  9. Darthyoda

    I can’t remember messing up a computer through the registry, but there’s been several times years ago with win9x that I went to delete the files on the floppy drive through the command prompt, but I forgot to change out of the windows directory. So when I went deltree /y I deleted Windows, not the floppy disk.

  10. Samuel
    Author/

    @OldElmerFudd: I also have a second home in the registry, though I’ve messed my machine up more then once. usually though I do it on purpose so its not so bad. As far as killing computers, well the worst I’ve ever done was trying to get a celeron to work with no fan (by the way, BAD idea).

  11. OldElmerFudd

    @Samuel:
    I had no doubt that someone with your credentials would take extra care with the suggestions. Personally, I’m very comfortable in the registry after years of experience. I did make mistakes that caused me to re-install a few things back in the bad old Win98 days. Fortunately, I’ve only killed a computer once, and that was when the power went out in the middle of flashing the bios on a PIII mb!

    Like you, I prefer manually making changes; it’s the best way for me to learn.

  12. Sandeep

    Would be a great article to read and understand. There are so many things to learn and i am happy to learn them and gain some more knowledge.

    Thanks Ashraf for sharing all these trips and tricks and knowledge always with dottechies.

    You are a real GEM.

    Thanks.

  13. Samuel
    Author/

    @giovanni: I think I’ve heard of it but I happen to prefer to do things like that myself. Besides the pride in doing them I also happen to be a bit of a control freak with my system, so by doing them my self I know exactly what whent wrong.

  14. OldElmerFudd

    Deep waters here, kids! A nice registry backup program I use is Erunt. http://www.larshederer.homepage.t-online.de/erunt/
    Backs up all the hives to a WINDOWS/ERDNT folder for restoration. Another tip: If you have to restore your machine from System Restore and/or Erunt, do it in Safe Mode. It should be less problematic that way.

    A final thought: try small, well-known tweaks, such as creating “Copy To” and “Move To” in the context menu until you’re really, really comfortable mucking about in the registry. There are lethal mistakes that *will* hose your OS, so take it slow.