Selected ways to tweak the Registry

Choosing a useful tweak for the Registry

The Internet is full of talk about Registry tweaks, However, there is a very large amount of duplication and the same Registry tweaks are recommended over and over. Many of the posters have not personally checked the tweaks out and simply parrot claims made elsewhere. Also many of the tweaks that you see recommended are of marginal or no benefit to most PC users. Many apply only to specialized situations or are attempts by gamers to extract the last few milliseconds of performance. In fact, some are useless or worse. A not uncommon mistake is to recommend a tweak for XP that might have had some value in an older version of Windows but does not apply to later editions. Some commonly recommended tweaks become even more problematical for Windows Vista/7.

With so many suggestions and files, it is hard for the average PC user to to choose which among them might be helpful. In this article I present some tweaks which I have personally tried and which I believe to be useful to a general group of PC owners.

First things before you tweak the Registry

The ironclad rule of Registry editing or tweaking is to back up first. Always make a System Restore Point. If you are editing a specific Registry key, back that up as well. Backup procedures are discussed here and also here. The key to safe Registry tweaking is knowing how to get back to where you started.

Another good rule to follow is to limit yourself to one or two tweaks at a time. Reboot the system (often necessary for a tweak to take effect) and see if you are satisfied with the results before making additional tweaks.

Also note that doing anything to the Registry requires administrative privileges. This is not much of an issue in Windows XP but in Vista and 7 you will encounter User Account Control.

Registry tweaking utilities

Much of the time Registry tweaking is done indirectly. A great many of the Windows configuration tweaks discussed on the Internet are actually Registry edits. Very often there is a user interface that disguises the fact that the Registry is being edited. Before we consider some selected individual Registry edits, let us look at some utilities with user interfaces that can be used to apply a number of Registry edits without requiring the user to directly access the Registry.

The utility TweakUI for Windows XP has been discussed on a previous page. For Windows Vista and Windows 7, a similar free program is called the Ultimate Windows Tweaker. Another good utility is WinBubble. There is a version for Vista and one announced for Windows 7. Some of the features in the Vista version are shown in the figure below. A section with some tweaks involving Registry edits is outlined in yellow. We will revisit some of these tweaks in a later section.

Winbubble utility

As mentioned on another page, some versions of Windows come with their own utility that has an interface for making Registry changes, the Group Policy Editor. However, the home versions lack this utility.

All of the utilities mentioned so far are for a large variety of general Windows configuration settings. However, there are also utilities which can be used for changing some specific sections of the Registry. Those that provide ways to add or delete entries from the right-click context menu are popular and can be useful. The changes are in the Registry hive HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. Entries in the right-click context menu can be big time savers and it is one of my favorite places for additions. Experienced PC users can edit HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. directly (see below) but the targeted utilities or scripts are safer.

An excellent free program for editing right-click context menu entries is ShellMenuView from Nir Sofer. It was written for Windows XP but seems to work in Vista as well. FileMenuTools is another useful program. It works in XP and Vista. Yet another program is MMM free from Hace but it is for XP only.

Specific tweaks

There are innumerable Registry tweaks mentioned on the Internet. Most are quite specialized and are for Windows XP and earlier. Exercise caution before applying a tweak to Windows Vista or 7. Here are a selected few that are of general interest. The effects of all Registry edits are strictly the users responsibility. Always know how to undo any editing.

Add an item to the right-click context menu for folders

As previously mentioned, this involves the hive HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. This hive is a lengthy part of the Registry so care must be exercised. Details of using the Registry Editor (regedit.exe) are given on another page. If you want to add a program or an action to the right-click context menu for folders, here are the steps (should work for Windows XP/Vista/7)::

  1. Open the Registry Editor
  2. Select HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\ Directory\ shell.
  3. Select New from the Edit menu, and then select Key.
  4. Type in the name of the new item you want added to the context menu (name can be whatever you choose.). , Press Enter.
  5. Highlight the new key, select New from the Edit menu, and then select Key again.
  6. Type command for the name of this new key, and press Enter.
  7. Double-click on the (default) value in the right pane, and enter the full path and file name of the application you want associated with this item. If the application is supposed to act on the folder (open or edit it, for example), add a space and "%1" (include quotes") after the application file name. The placeholder "%1" stands for the name of a selected folder.and the quotes are in case paths and/or file names have spaces in them.

Managing "My Recent Documents"

The Start menu in Windows XP contains an entry, My Recent Documents, where a list of all the recent documents that you have opened or used is kept. Over time, the number of items can become quite large and even cause a slower boot. Details are given at this link. Here's a way to automatically clean up when you log out:

  1. Open Regedit.
  2. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\ CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer.
  3. Create a DWORD value named ClearRecentDocsOnExit.
  4. Give it a data value of 1.

Shortcut entries for “My Recent Documents” will still be collected during a login session but will then be cleared at logoff. Those who prefer can make the Registry change with a little INF file that can be downloaded here. This edit applies to the current user only and does not apply to other user accounts. The edit may work in Vista/7 as well but has not been tested. Use caution.

Speed up disk cleanup in Windows XP

Disk Cleanup is a handy Windows XP utility but often runs into a problem with the utility being very slow or hanging for a long time. This is caused by the default setting in Disk Cleanup that checks to see if it should apply file compression to old files. The solution (XP only) is a simple Registry edit. Open Regedit and delete the key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches\Compress old files

Change owner and organization

Windows machines contain an entry for the registered owner and organization. The term "registered" is a little misleading since, as far as I know, the term only refers to entries in the Registry. In any event, both the owner and organization names are easily changed. If you sell or give away a computer, you might want to change these items. The information is contained in the key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersionThere are two values named RegisteredOrganization and RegisteredOwner. Find these entries in the right panel of Regedit. ( see the first figure below.) Double-click an entry to bring up the Editor dialog (second figure below). Enter whatever text you prefer and click "OK".

Registry change owner

Editing PC registered owner

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