BOOT CAMP 570 (01/04/09) – The Windows Registry, part 3


In the final instalment of our whirlwind tour of the Windows Registry we’ll look at a simple manual Registry hack then move swiftly on to a couple of freeware tools that do all the dirty work for you, modifying settings that change the way Windows works and looks but without you having to go anywhere near the Registry.


But first the obligatory warning. Please skip the next couple of paragraphs if you are at all nervous about modifying important system files. It’s actually very straightforward but if you mess it up you could turn your PC into an expensive doorstop so you try it entirely at your own risk. As always set a Restore Point or backup the Registry before you make any changes (see last week’s Top Tip).


Recent Documents and Recent Items on the XP and Vista Start menus can be quite useful but they are a bit of a give-away for anyone who wants to keep an eye on what you’ve been getting up to on your computer. Windows lets you hide and clear the list (Right-Click Start Menu > Properties > Customize in XP or Start Menu tab in Vista) but for anyone in the know it’s very easy to find. This Registry tweak makes the list go away, and stay away.


Open Regedit – see part 2 -- and make your way to: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\ CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer.

Right click into the right hand pane and select New > DWORD Value (or DWORD (32-bit) Value in Vista). A New Value entry will be created, right-click on it, select Rename and call it ‘NoRecentDocsMenu’ (without the quotes) and click OK. Double-click the new entry and in the Edit DWORD Value box that opens, change the Value Data entry from 0 to 1. Click OK, reboot and hey-presto, no more Recent Documents/Items. For extra privacy you can stop Windows recording Recent items (add the DWORD entry ‘NoRecentDocsHistory’) or automatically clear the list when you exit Windows (add DWORD ‘ClearRecentDocsOnExit’). Put them in the same place as the NoRecentDocsMenu key and as before both entries should have a Value Data of 1. To restore Recent Documents/Items simply delete the key or keys by right clicking on them in Regedit.


Even if you don’t feel brave enough to try this for yourself you will see that the steps involved are all fairly straightforward. There’s no magic involved, just simple text instructions telling Windows to do, or not to do something.


There are probably lots of little things in Windows like that, which you would like to change, and you can, but without all the faffing around. If you are using Windows XP the place to go is the Microsoft website ( and download some PowerToys. These are small freeware utilities that change Windows Registry settings, but all you have to do is tick a box, so they are reasonably safe. However, be warned that PowerToys are not supported by Microsoft and you’ll get no help from them if something goes wrong!


The most famous one of all is Tweak UI for XP, and I would try that first. It has scores of settings, everything from removing the little arrows that appear on desktop shortcuts to changing mouse scroll wheels settings, adjusting the size and quality of thumbnail images and altering the time pictures are displayed in the Slideshow screensaver. There are far too many options to list here so the best thing to do is download it and have a look for yourself.


PowerToys were created by Microsoft engineers in their spare time, and they first appeared after the release of Windows 98 Unfortunately they seem to have been a bit busy lately and they haven’t got around to developing a Tweak UI for Windows Vista. The XP version can be jiggled to run in Vista but it’s not very good and a lot of the functions do not work.


There is an alternative, though, and a software company called Totalidea has stepped in with a set of utilities called Tweak VI ( The basic version is free and it is very good, with hundreds of settings and options to play around with, including many of the ones featured in Tweak UI for XP. There are some interesting extras too, including a facility to put your own company logo, name and phone number onto the System Properties page. There’s a section called ‘Disable nice but useless stuff’, and a very handy set of restrictions that let you hide or disable entries in Control Panel. Tweak VI is a commercial product, though, and in order to access the full range of facilities you have to pay an additional Subscription of $40 or $50 for the Premium and Ultimate versions, but I suspect the freebie program will keep most users occupied for some time to come.


Next Week – Things to do with old PCs and Laptops





System file backups, used by the Windows System Restore facility to reset a PC to a previous working configuration



Postage stamp sized images that allow you to quickly view many image files contained in a folder



User Interface, the part of a computer operating system that the user sees and interacts with




Despite what the scary ads might say the Windows Registry does not require regular cleaning. It does become cluttered over time but usually this doesn’t affect performance. Nevertheless, an unruly Registry can increase the chance of a glitch and it doesn’t hurt to give it a gentle wipe over once or twice a year, especially on a well-used PC where lots of programs have been installed and uninstalled. There’s no need to pay for an expensive cleaner, though, a couple of freeware applications do a good job of removing redundant entries, and they are both reasonably safe to use. 


At the top of my list is RegSeeker (, which has been around for several years and has a good track record. It has a built-in backup facility that should get you out of trouble if something goes awry.  The second once is included in the Crap Cleaner ( privacy tool. It’s not as wide-ranging as RegSeeker so it’s less likely to zap anything important, and it also backs up the Registry before any changes are made.


Don't forget, there's a full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at



© R. Maybury 2009, 1103

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