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How to Safely Change the Windows Vista Registry

Making changes to the Windows Vista Registry doesn't have to be a scary thing. But it is important to know how to make the changes in a safe way that won't cause your system permanent damage.

Nobody completely understands the Registry. The items in it are infuriatingly inconsistent, generally entirely undocumented, and stored away in a very nearly random order. No matter how much you feel the temptation, it’s never a good idea to go into the Registry to “fix” something if you don’t know precisely what needs fixing and how. Changing Registry settings willy-nilly to try to fix random problems only lands you in hot water.

Here’s the general approach to making safe changes in the Registry:

  1. Create a system restore point.

  2. Back up the key that you’re going to change to a .reg file.

  3. Make the changes.

    Make sure that you've got a clear plan when making changes. Then follow the instructions to the letter.

  4. If necessary, force Windows to recognize those changes.

    Generally, the most reliable way to do that is to log off and then log back on again.

  5. Test the changes.

    Depending on the kind of change you made, this step can be quite straightforward or very difficult. For example, testing to see whether a Registry tweak speeds up your Internet connection could be iffy at best. On the other hand, testing to see whether a modified desktop setting (say, a new color for your menus) worked could be as simple as looking at your desktop.

  6. If the change didn’t do what you wanted it to do, restore the Registry by double-clicking the .reg file that you saved.

  7. If something goes very, very wrong, restore your system to the system restore point.

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