Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Registry

Q: I downloaded a program that was supposed to clean my registry. Before I run it, should I run it? What the heck is a registry, anyway?

A: Advertisements on websites and other media outlets have convinced many of you that cleaning your registry is something you should do often. The announcements urge you to purchase a registry cleaner that will “make your system will run faster” or “prevent lockups” and so forth. The benefits of cleaning your registry are generally overstated. The vast majority of home users should perform a registry cleaning perhaps once a year – if that much – using free software.

So what is a registry? The Microsoft Computer Dictionary, 5th Edition defines the registry as: “A central hierarchical database (. . .) used to store information necessary to configure the system for one or more users, applications and hardware devices.”

The registry contains basic information that Windows continually references during operation such as profiles for each user, the applications installed on the computer and the types of documents that each can create, settings for folders and application icons and what hardware exists on the system. Over time, the registry can become bloated with unnecessary information resulting from installing and uninstalling programs. Sometimes these “orphaned” registry entries can confuse Windows and cause delays. A registry cleaner removes all the orphaned information and can possibly make Windows start up and run a little faster.
You can manually edit the registry by using the registry editor built into Windows called Regedit. Regedit is handy if you need to address a single, specific problem such as a stopping a program from loading every time you start your computer. However, if you make one bad move during a manual edit, you could render your computer useless and be forced to re-install everything from scratch. Thus, automated registry cleaners are better for clean-ups.

Before you perform a registry cleaning, keep in mind that the registry is pretty far down the list of things that can make a system slow. There are all sorts of things that can make your computer run slow including viruses, spyware, insufficient RAM and a thousand other things. All those issues should be addressed first. But if you have had your computer for a few years and have never tidied-up your registry, you might gain a slight performance increase if you clean your registry. One of my favorite registry cleaners and general computer cleaner-upper is a program called CCleaner. It is a free download available from

I can’t think of a single non-free registry cleaner that I would recommend so if you are considering actually purchasing a registry cleaner, consider otherwise. The free ones work just fine.

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