Ezine 124 – Guy’s Five Stages of Editing the Registry
The body of this week’s ezine contains advice on Guy’s five stages of editing the registry. On reflection, it occurred to me that we could apply the underlying principles to other dangerous activities, such as learning to ski, deep-sea diving, or even starting a business. I would like to conclude my journey into the registry by asking, ‘What do you think about Registry Cleaners?’
Topics for Ezine 124
My philosophy with the registry on a live machine is if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. If the registry is broke then I want to investigate the values and data myself, rather than rely on an automatic registry cleaner. If I can unearth the root cause of the problem, then I can protect my computer against virus, Spyware or an incompatible program.
I don’t trust Registry Cleaners. One reason is that I have heard terrible reports of them ‘cleaning’ settings which were actually needed by a program that the Cleaner did not know about. One of the Registry Cleaner’s claims is that they speed up a machine by removing unnecessary settings. My guess is that they would only shave milliseconds at boot time, and any improvement in application response time would be measured in nanoseconds.
In an attempt to be fair, I have read a dozen reviews of registry cleaners. One constant feature of each commercial product is that they all say: ‘Don’t trust the OTHER registry cleaners, THEY will do terrible things to your registry – but this one won’t.’ An interesting argument, especially if you take it full circle.
To digress, I have taken a liking to McAfee’s Site Advisor, if you search the web for the string: ‘registry cleaner speed machine’, the first 5 results all have a big red cross from the Site Advisor. This means that you are probably downloading adware or Spyware from at least some sites which sell Registry Cleaners! I am proud to say that Computer Performance gets a green tick from the Site Advisor.
Please write to me with your views on Registry Cleaners. Incidentally, it surprises many readers that if they reply to this ezine, I will answer them. For the next ezine I already have 3 products recommended by readers. If you know of a good utility – preferably free, please write to me as I would like to build up a collection of useful products to share with the other readers. I dare you to recommend a registry cleaner!
Tired of writing scripts? The User Management Resource Administrator solution by Tools4ever offers an alternative to time-consuming manual processes.
It features 100% auto provisioning, Helpdesk Delegation, Connectors to more than 130 systems/applications, Workflow Management, Self Service and many other benefits. Click on the link for more information onUMRA.
Guy’s Five Stages of Registry Hacking – Which stage are you at?
At stage 1 of registry tweaking, you are anxious that you may destroy your machine. This is why you confine your registry activities to a test machine. When it comes to making changes, you restrict your activities to just altering a few values from zero to one. What this does is to enable, or activate, a feature that you are reading about in a ‘How to…’ article.
Mastering the registry, means spotting new patterns; for example, do the instructions for the registry tweak start with HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, or HKEY_CURRENT_USER? This leads us to think, ‘does this setting affect the computer, or does it control the user’s configuration?’
After a few trips into the registry, you begin to appreciate the sheer scale of the hives, folders, keys and values. Soon, you start to make sense of the data, for instance, you notice that the icon for String Value has a different pattern from the icon for DWORD. By now you realize that the names of the values are not case sensitive, the eccentric capitalization is just a way of making the names read more easily, for example AutoAdminLogon.
Whereas previously you only modified existing entries, as your confidence grows, you extend your repertoire by adding new values. However, at stage 2 you still remember to export your registry’s ‘Selected Branch’ BEFORE you make any changes.
At the third stage you reach the point where a little knowledge is dangerous. You discover Regedit’s Edit menu with its ‘Find’. More riskily, you learn how easy it is to import settings stored in .reg files. This allows you to add lots of settings to the registry quickly, just by double clicking a text file with .reg extension. You also apply my tip of using regedit’s Favorites; consequently you find it easy to return to the most popular registry haunts.
Perhaps you also use Vista’s Volume Shadow Copy. Thus you discover how to retrieve previous versions of the registry files from the %SystemRoot%\System32\config folder. Now the danger is that because you are having so much fun, you cannot imagine anything can go wrong. You start taking more risks. Occasionally you forget to export the registry before one of your experiments.
One of life’s rules is that complacency inevitably leads to disaster. Just as children who play with fire get their fingers burnt, so those who play risky games with the registry, come unstuck. Perhaps the biggest cause of registry tweaks that cripple a machine, is people changing settings that they don’t understand. As a result, one day they switch on the machine only to be greeted by the message: Machine will not boot. Stop 0x0000051.
Stop messages like the above cause your heart to beat faster. You realize that you have gone too far this time and have deleted a vital hive in the registry. At this stage it is a question of do or die. Either you vow never to touch regedit again, and complete your penance by rebuilding the machine from scratch, or you stay calm, apply your skill, overcome the disaster, and thus reach the fifth and final stage of registry hacking.
5) Respect for registry editing
Knowledge, power and respect form a triangle. If one side of this triangle is shorter than the others, then the whole structure topples over. In times of crisis remember your good practices, and run through your troubleshooting strategies. To repair a broken registry, as the machine boots, press F8 and select ‘Last Known Good’. This is particularly effective at restoring settings in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE section of the registry. If that does not work then try booting into ‘Safe mode’.
Provided you can get into the operating system, then you have a variety of tactics. Best would be to restore the registry from the system state backup, or a Regedit export. You did take precautions? Didn’t you?
If a restore is not possible, then try booting into a parallel installation, for example, install another copy of Vista or XP on the D: \drive. Where the stricken machine boots, but then hangs, one other possibility is to try and access the registry remotely from another machine. Remote registry editing is an art in itself and requires that you start the remote registry service, fortunately, you can do this remotely. As I say, remote registry is a black art which requires research outside this article.
Check out the SystemRoot%\System32\config folder, what you are particularly looking for is the .sav files, one day they could be your salvation. I once used a parallel installation to find this config folder, and then I renamed the ‘system.sav’ file to ‘system’, and thus repaired the Vista registry. Once the machine started, I was able to import a .reg file that I thoughtfully exported before trying a dodgy registry experiment.
In my humble opinion, you have to go through the catharsis of a registry disaster before you give this black art of tweaking the registry proper respect. Thereafter, you always have one eye on safety. You make those backups, and export that registry branch regularly.
Guy Recommends: The Free IP Address Tracker (IPAT)
Calculating IP Address ranges is a black art, which many network managers solve by creating custom Excel spreadsheets. IPAT cracks this problem of allocating IP addresses in networks in two ways:
For Mr Organized there is a nifty subnet calculator, you enter the network address and the subnet mask, then IPAT works out the usable addresses and their ranges.
For Mr Lazy IPAT discovers and then displays the IP addresses of existing computers. Download the Free IP Address Tracker
Will and Guy – Uplifting
When it comes to humor we believe that variety is the spice of life. In fact, we have digressed and published a PowerShell Presentation which is not funny, but it is uplifting and thoroughly recommended. If you take the time to have a look, it will improve your day by at least 1%. (‘Two Choices’ stopped Guy responding negatively to a Mr Angry letter.) Uplifting – Two Choices Presentation
See more registry articles