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Chapter 8. The Registry > Ten Cool Things You Can Do in Your Registry

8.7. Ten Cool Things You Can Do in Your Registry

Armed with your new understanding of the Windows XP Registry, you’re no doubt ready to get in there and start exploring. Hopefully, this chapter has provided the “lay of the land” you need to get and keep your bearings in the otherwise confusing wilderness of the Registry. While we don’t have the kind of room in this book it takes to make you an expert, we would like to send you on your way by pointing out some interesting landmarks; i.e., ten cool changes you can make in your own Registry.

  1. Expand the scope of IE’s AutoComplete feature.

    In Internet Explorer, you can enter an incomplete URL (i.e., oreilly instead of http://www.oreilly.com) and IE will attempt to complete the address itself by searching for all instances. However, IE only searches the .com, .edu, .net, and .org top-level domains (TLDs) by default, and only tries the www prefix. To add new domain suffixes and prefixes to search, go to:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main\UrlTemplate

  2. By default, this key has four values in Windows XP: 1, 2, 3, and 4, set to www.%s.com, www.%s.net, www.%s.org, and www.%s.edu, respectively. The value names (the numbers) specify the search order (lower numbers take precedence), and the data specifies the format. Feel free to rearrange the existing items, remove unwanted items, or add new TLDs, like .gov (for US government websites), .co.nz (for commercial web sites in New Zealand), or .store (one of the newly proposed TLDs, still on the drawing table at the time of this writing).

  3. Roll back any single setting to the Windows default.

    An entire branch in the Registry is used as a template with which to create new user profiles. As described earlier in this chapter, the path:


    is duplicated for each new user that is created in Windows XP. If, down the road, you trace a certain problem to an incorrect Registry setting, you can just visit this branch and obtain the default value. For example, I recently ran into a problem caused by incorrect data in the UserPreferenceMask value, located in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop. I looked up the corresponding value in HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop, and copied its data into the active UserPreferenceMask value. Problem solved!

    Another use of this key, especially for those who need to configure a large number of users, is that any change made to the .DEFAULT branch will appear in each new user that is added to the system (existing users won’t be affected). This can be a great way, for example, to disable the system sounds for each student account on a classroom computer.

  4. Disable the Shut Down command.

    If you’re running a kiosk or demo system (or if you just don’t want people shutting down your machine), you can disable the Shut Down command by going to:


    Create a new DWORD value in this key and name it NoClose. Double-click the new value, and set its data to 1. You’ll have to log out and log back in (or restart Windows) for this change to take effect. Note that in order to shut down now, you’ll have to press Ctrl-Alt-Del, and click Shut Down. To undo this change, just delete the NoClose value.

  5. Registry Editor remembers where you were.

    Each time you open the Registry Editor, it automatically expands the branch you had open the last time Registry Editor was used, but no others. So, if you find yourself repeatedly adjusting a particular setting and then closing Registry Editor (such as when implementing the previous tip), make sure the relevant key is highlighted just before Registry Editor is closed, and that key will be opened next time as well.

    Note also the Favorites menu, which works very much like the one in Internet Explorer, allows you to bookmark frequently accessed Registry keys. While it’s useful, I personally find the existence of such a feature in a troubleshooting tool like Registry Editor to be more than a little eerie.

  6. Change the registered user and company names for Windows XP.

    When Windows XP is installed, a user and company name are entered. Unfortunately, there is no convenient way to change this information after installation. Surprise—you can do it in the Registry! Just go to:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion

    The values you need are RegisteredOwner and RegisteredOrganization, both of which can be changed to whatever you’d like. You may notice that the Registry key containing these values is in the Windows NT branch, rather than the more commonly used Windows branch. Don’t worry, both branches are used in Windows XP. The less-used Windows NT branch contains more advanced settings, mostly those that differentiate the Windows 9x and Windows NT lines of operating systems (as described in Chapter 1).

  7. Change your default installation path.

    When you install Windows XP, the path to your installation files is set in the Registry. Unfortunately, this setting is not updated when drive letters change or when you point to a different location when optional components are added or removed. To change the default setup path, making subsequent configuration changes more convenient, go to:


    Start by changing the SourcePath value to either the root directory of your CD drive (e.g. d:\), or to a path on your hard disk or network containing the Windows XP installation files. Note also the Installation Sources entry, which is a REG_MULTI_SZ value (see Section 8.1, earlier in this chapter, for details on this value type). It contains a list of all the folders displayed in Windows’ drop-down list, allowing you to quickly point to any one of several favorite installation paths.

  8. Try something new with My Computer.

    Double-click the My Computer icon, and the My Computer window appears. It doesn’t have to be this way. The program launched when you double-click My Computer is simply another value in the Registry. Start by navigating to:


    (See the following tip for an easy way to locate this key)

    You’ll notice that the structure of this key is very similar to standard file type keys (discussed earlier in this chapter), which means we can treat this object like a file type and create new actions for it. Open the Shell subkey, and create a new key named open; in the new Open key, create a new key named command. You should then be here:


    Double-click on the default value of that new Command key and type the full path and filename of the program you wish to open. For example, I find it handy to have the My Computer icon open an Explorer window; to do this, just type explorer.exe for the value data. You’ll have to log out and log back in for the change to take effect.

  9. Some handy Registry navigation shortcuts.

    The previous tip involved navigating to the Registry key associated with the My Computer icon on the Desktop, which is located in the HKCR\CLSID branch. If you visit this branch, you’ll notice hundreds of Class ID keys, all sorted alphabetically (so to speak), which makes finding a single key rather laborious. Luckily, there are a few alternatives that will greatly simplify this task.

    First, you can simply search the Registry for “My Computer.” Start by highlighting the key at the top of the tree (coincidentally named “My Computer”), which instructs Registry Editor to begin searching at the beginning. Then, use Edit Find, type My Computer, make sure that all the “Look at” options are checked, and click Find Next. The first instance it finds will probably be the key you’re looking for, although it won’t always be this easy.

    Another shortcut is to use the keyboard. Like Explorer, when you press a letter or number key, Registry Editor will jump to the first entry that starts with that character. Furthermore, if you press several keys in succession, they will all be used to spell the target item. For example, to navigate to:


    start by expanding the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT key. Then, press C + L +S quickly in succession, and Registry Editor will jump to the CLSID key. Next, expand that key by pressing the (+) button, or by pressing the right arrow key, and press { + 2 + 0 (the first three characters of the key name, including the curly brace), and you’ll be in the neighborhood of the target key in seconds.

  10. Permanently remove many unwanted system tray icons.

    In Section 8.3.4, earlier in this chapter, the HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run key is described as listing many programs that are run automatically when Windows starts. Some of these entries are included in order to install icons in the system tray (the area on your Taskbar, by the clock). Since most of the tray icons that come with Windows can be toggled on and off in Control Panel, the more bothersome ones are usually installed by third-party programs. To disable one or more of these tray icons, preventing them from loading the next time Windows starts, you’ll have to delete the corresponding value in this key (renaming isn’t sufficient). Use caution, and certainly make a Registry patch to back up the entire key before fiddling with it.

  11. Alphabetize your Start menu in one step.

    The Windows XP Start menu allows you to rearrange shortcuts by dragging and dropping them; the unfortunate consequence of this feature is that new shortcuts and folders that appear when applications are installed are added to the end of the list. Now, you can sort a single Start Menu folder alphabetically by right-clicking any shortcut and selecting Sort by Name, but this can get tedious very quickly. The solution to this is in the Registry; just navigate to:

    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\MenuOrder\Start Menu

    and you’ll see subkeys and values that determine the sort order of the contents of the Start menu (and the Favorites menu, next door). Simply delete the entire Start menu key to sort all of the folders in your Start menu alphabetically, or selectively delete the desired subkeys to sort corresponding folders. Note that the next time you drag-drop a shortcut in the Start menu, Windows will recreate these keys automatically, so you may wish to write a WSH script (see Chapter 9) to automatically delete this key, say, every time Windows is started.



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