The main tool in Windows for working with the registry is the Registry Editor, regedit.exe. It’s available from the command line; click Start, Run, type regedit on the command line, and press Enter. The Registry Editor is a fairly uncomplicated tool, as such things go, but it lacks a lot when it comes to protecting you from yourself or helping you to do heavy-duty work with the registry. The Registry Editor is designed to let a knowledgeable person go into the registry and examine or change keys one at a time—or, at most, a few at a time.
Many people use nothing but regedit.exe to work on the registry, but other tools allow you to do big jobs in the registry more easily and safely.
Third-party registry tools are very much the province of small companies that offer one or a few tools. Although almost all of them are cheap—less than $100 in most cases—they’re also mostly designed for working on individual computers. Few of them will work over a network, for example, and many of them are for Windows XP only.
Basically, third-party registry tools fall into two classes: registry cleaners, and everything else. Registry cleaners, by far the biggest class of registry products, check the registry for junk such as unused DLLs, spyware, and obsolete links; they then clean out this garbage.
The other third-party registry tools handle a wide variety of registry-related jobs:
- One very useful utility is a registry copier, such as the one in Registry Tool. Registry copiers make a copy of the registry that you can examine and change without working on the actual registry. While you can do the same thing from regedit.exe, third-party tools are generally easier to use.
- Another useful tool is a registry monitor, which tracks all changes to the registry. Registry Watch, a standalone product from Easy Desk Software, is one example of this class of product. Again, these utilities vary quite a bit in what they do. Registry Watch takes snapshots of the registry so you can spot changes over time. The RegRun Gold and Platinum editions from Greatis Software monitor about two dozen important keys that are often changed by spyware or Trojans. RegWorks monitors access to the registry, to log which programs access which keys.
Doing a lot of work with the registry? Several utilities can take you directly to any key in the registry. This is much faster than navigating through the entire registry tree. A couple of examples are Registry Jumper (freeware) and JumpReg from 12Ghosts.