Editing the Windows Vista Registry

Editing the Windows Vista Registry with RegeditVista Registry

When a computer is not working properly, there are situations where editing the registry is the best troubleshooting technique.  My primary aim is to give you the skill, the practice, and above all, the confidence to launch regedit and change the registry settings.  My secondary aim is to persuade you to take sensible precautions, for example, export at least that particular branch before editing any registry values.

As usual, I have lots of worked examples, which I urge you to try on your own machine.  Each registry tweak has two aims; to solve a specific problem, and to provide general learning points, which help you to master regedit.  Most of the tweaks work equally well on Vista, XP and Windows Server registries, where there are differences I will explain what happens in each operating system.

Windows Vista Registry Topics


Introduction to the Registry

There will be times when your research reveals that there is simply no GUI to configure a particular Vista setting.  Consequently, the only hope of solving the problem is to edit a value in the registry.  Another reason to acquire confidence at editing the registry, is so that you can repair a defective machine remotely.

Officially, you edit the Vista registry by adding keys, or modifying values, colloquially, this process is called ‘tweaking the registry’, or ‘hacking the registry’.  If I have a hidden agenda it is that in general, learning should be fun, and in particular, that tweaking the registry should be satisfying.  To reinforce this ‘let’s have fun’ message, many of my examples also have amusing anecdotes.

What is Vista’s Registry?

  • A collection of all the operating system’s configurable settings.
  • A replacement for all those ancient .ini files.
  • A database for Group Policy settings.
  • A no-go area for amateurs!
  • A tool for troubleshooting operating system problems.
  • A back-end for Control Panel’s front-end.
  • A vehicle for having fun while you tweak Vista’s performance and appearance.

Registry Skills Progression

To become expert at any task you need to acquire a range of skills.  Because the registry is live, with no ‘Simulate’ button, and no safety catch, I have arranged the following techniques as a progression. 

Here is my sequence for mastering the registry along with examples of how to develop the corresponding technique.

  1. Launch Regedit – Simple exercise to get started with the registry editor
  2. Find Settings, Values and Data – CachedLogonsCount
  3. Add setting to ‘Favorites’ – (Any, and every example)
  4. Export a registry key – (Before you make ANY change)
  5. Change an existing value – PaintDesktopVersion, RegisteredOwner
  6. Rename an existing value – Computer
  7. Create a new value – Auto Logon
  8. Create a new key – ContextMenuHandlers, RemoveShortcut
  9. Import registry settings from a .reg file – Examples
  10. Remote Registry Editing – Get out of jail card

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Getting Started: Launch RegeditStart - Regedit

I will be giving you clear instructions to help you master tweaking the registry.  Nevertheless, do take precautions.  The best defence against a mistake would be to experiment with the registry on a test machine.  My favorite technique for recovering from mini-disasters is to export the registry key BEFORE I start editing values.  What I do in regedit is click on the File menu, Export, Selected Branch.  Every other expert will tell you to backup the System State before you begin.

Let us assume that your mission is to change a setting in Vista by using the registry editor.

  1. Click on the Vista Start Orb Launch Regedit (Button)
  2. Click in the Start Search Dialog Box
  3. Type regedit
  4. Press enter (or double click Program: regedit)
  5. See screenshot opposite

Note 1: Unlike other Vista executables, if you type just the first few letters, ‘reg’ or ‘reged’, Vista does not auto-complete the name of the program, you have to type the full name – regedit.

Note 2: Another clue that amateurs are not supposed to open the registry, is that the special editor, Regedit, does not appear on any Vista menu.

Note 3: The actual executable is called regedit, but for backwards compatibility with NT 4.0, it also responds to the name of regedt32.

Best Practice for Editing the Vista Registry

  • Before you make any changes to the registry settings, get into the habit of exporting at the branch of the registry that you are working with.
  • Backup the system state before you try anything radical in the registry.
  • Check out the .sav files in the \system32\config folder.
  • Research Volume Shadow Copy, and test how it restores a previous version of your registry files.
  • If your computer has a serious problem, which requires pressing F8 at boot-up, remember to try Last Known Good as your first recovery option.
  • Seek alternative methods; think laterally.  Instead of risking making changes with your registry editor, what else could you do?  I urge you to consider configuring a Group Policy rather than tweaking the registry.  Occasionally Vista may provide a new GUI to configure a setting, for example, instead of launching regedit and changing the value for AutoAdminLogon, you could launch the Control Panel –> Users and un-tick the setting called, ‘Users must enter a user name and password.’
  • Learn how to perform a remote registry edit with: Connect Network Registry.
  • As you work through my registry examples, make a point of studying each page’s ‘Key Learning Points’.


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Windows Vista Registry Tweaks: