Right-clicking on everything is a good way to learn about hidden Windows functionality. Exploring the lesser-known Control Panel applets is another useful technique, and browsing the command line applications in Windows' System32 folder can be interesting. But let's be realistic. There's nothing that quite compares to the Registry.
It's packed with useful settings that can improve performance, fix security holes and change even the most fundamental Windows behaviour for the better. And many of these features simply can't be accessed in any other way. Be careful, though: the Registry has more than its fair share of traps.
If you're not cautious, you could cause more problems than you solve. But with a little care you can get on with creating a better system that's tailored towards your needs. Here are 20 greatRegistry hacks that everyone should know about.
Go to 'HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\StorageDevicePolicies', create a DWORD value called 'WriteProtect' and set it to 1. You'll be able to read USB drives, but not write to them any more.
To do this, set 'HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\System\ConsentPromptBehaviorAdmin' to 0. You can restore normal UAC behaviour by setting it to 2.
3. Change the owner
Browse to 'HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion' and you'll see both a 'RegisteredOwner' and 'RegisteredOrganization' value. Double-click either to change them.
4. Sort files properly
To restore regular ASCII file ordering, go to 'HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Currentversion\Policies\Explorer', create a DWORD value called 'NoStrCmpLogical' and set it to 1. Delete the key to restore the standard Explorer approach.
5. Troubleshoot startup
6. Manage folder types
Create a key called 'AllFolders' beneath Bags, and a key called 'Shell' below that. Click it to open 'HCU\Software\Classes\LocalSettings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\ Bags\AllFolders\Shell'. Right-click the right-hand pane, choose 'New | String Value' and call this 'FolderType'. Then double-click FolderType and set its value to 'NotSpecified'. You'll still be able to change the folder type, but Vista will no longer assign one. (See steps 10 to 20 here if you need more help.)
7. Easy encryption
For a simpler alternative, go to 'HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced', create a new DWORD called 'EncryptionContextMenu' and set it to 1. Now you can just right-click a file and select 'Encrypt'.
8. Access folders fast
Type '' (as ever, without quotation marks) and press [Enter]. Now hold down [Shift], right-click a folder and select 'Pin to Start Menu'.
9. Speed up copy times
To tweak this, browse to 'HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\Multimedia\SystemProfile'. Try setting 'NetworkThrottlingIndex' to more than 10 – 50 or 60 should be effective – then reboot and test your network speeds again. Read more here.
10. Fix the drive listing
This usually works, but it may break whatever application caused the problem in the first place. If a program stops working, check to see if it has an update, then reinstall it.
11. Access display settings quickly
Double-click '(Default)' in the right-hand pane and enter 'Display Settings' in the Value Data box. Now right-click Display Settings in the left-hand pane, select 'New | Key' again and call this key 'command'.
Double-click this new key's (Default) value and enter this text: 'rundll32 shell32.dll,Control_ RunDLL DESK.CPL,@0,3'. (That's a zero following the @ sign, and take care to use the right cases.) Click 'OK' and right-click the desktop to see the new Display Settings option.
12. Multiple Live Messenger log-ins
13. Clean the menus
On our PC, the key 'HKCR\*\shellex\ContextMenuHandlers\7-Zip' links to the 7-Zip context menu, for instance, so to get rid of that we would right-click the 7-Zip part in the left-hand pane and click 'Delete'. But be careful – only delete a key if you're really sure it's the right one.
14. Speed up backups
View the list at 'HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\BackupRestore\FilesNotToBackup'.
15. Change the default installation folder
16. Rename drives
If drive G: is a CompactFlash slot, say, then a few Registry tweaks can change it to read 'CompactFlash (G:)', making things much clearer. Start at 'HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer' and create a key called 'DriveIcons'.
Within that, create a key with the drive letter ('G' in this example), and within that, create a new key called 'DefaultLabel'. Double-click this key's (Default) value entry, give it the name 'CompactFlash' (or whatever you like) and click 'OK'. Restart Explorer or press [F5] to see the change.
17. Wipe the page file
To avoid this, go to 'HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SessionManager\MemoryManagement', set the 'ClearPageFileAtShutdown' value to 1 and reboot. Windows will now wipe the page file every time it shuts down, lengthening the process but increasing your security.
18. Crash on cue
Go to 'HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\i8042prt\Parameters', create a DWORD called 'CrashOnCtrlScroll' and set it to 1. Reboot your computer, and to crash it just hold down the right [CTRL] and press [Scroll Lock] twice. Use this sparingly: it's a crash like any other, and there's a chance of hard drive corruption. To be safe, delete the CrashOnCtrlScroll value when you're done.
19. Save CPU time
The solution? You can try what Windows Server does: set up your system to use a long quantum. Set 'HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\PriorityControl\Win32PrioritySeparation' to 16 (hex).
Longer quantums mean fewer switches between programs and so less wasted time. It can push some programs too far, though, and you might begin to notice games lagging or video playback becoming less smooth. If you spot any problems, just restore the original Win32PrioritySeparation value (probably 26 hex).
20. Disable AutoRun
On some systems, this can only be done from the Registry. To do so, go to 'HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\IniFileMapping' and create a key called 'Autorun.inf'.
Next, double-click the new key's (Default) value and enter the new value '@SYS:DoesNotExist'. Now delete the Registry key 'HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\MountPoints2'. Windows now won't automatically run any code on CDs, DVDs or removable drives; you will have to manually launch it.