Three good reasons to venture into Windows' Registry

Close non-responsive programs automatically, adjust the position of your desktop wallpaper, and prevent specific programs from appearing on the Start menu's most-frequent list.

I approach the Windows Registry the same way I approach my dentist's office. I enter both places only when necessary.

Sometimes, the fastest, most efficient way to make your PC more usable is to venture into the belly of the Windows beast via the Registry Editor. Before you make any Registry changes, create a backup by setting a restore point via System Restore.

Put the brakes on stalled apps
Programs crash: it's a simple fact of PC life. But you don't have to wait for Windows to spin its wheels while it waits for the stuck process to come to life. You can close frozen apps in no time by changing a key value in the Registry.

With your restore point in place, click Start > Run (in XP) or just Start (in Vista), type regedit, and press Enter. Navigate to and select this key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop

In XP, right-click the key AutoEndTasks in the right window and select Modify (or simply double-click the key). In Vista, you may have to create this key by right-clicking in the right pane and choosing New > String Value. Type AutoEndTasks and press Enter. Then double-click the new key. In XP, change the Value data to 1. In Vista, enter a Value data of 1.

Reposition your desktop wallpaper
For years, I've decorated my PC desktops with images of fine art I download from the Web Museum. Unfortunately, the images sometimes are pushed a little too far to one side or the other, cutting off one edge and leaving an unsightly white border on the opposite.

To adjust your wallpaper's placement on the desktop, reopen and select the same Registry key as in the above tip:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop

This time, double-click WallpaperOriginX in the right pane, or right-click the key and choose Modify. (If you don't see such a value listed, right-click in the right pane and select New > String Value. Type WallpaperOriginX and press Enter.)

Enter the number of pixels from the left edge you want the image to start and click OK. Now repeat the steps for the WallpaperOriginY key, but enter the number of pixels from the top edge you want the image to appear. You can enter a negative number to move the left or top edge of the image off the screen that number of pixels.

To check your wallpaper's position, right-click the desktop, choose Properties, and click OK or Apply to refresh the screen.

Block programs from appearing on the Start menu's list of frequently used apps
Many people like the way the Start menu lists the programs you access frequently. But you might prefer to keep a program you use from being displayed on the Start menu. To prevent an application from being shown along with other programs you often access, open the Registry Editor as described above, and navigate to and select this key:

HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Applications

Select the key corresponding to the executable file for the program you want to keep off the menu. For example, choose the Winword.exe key if you want to exclude Microsoft Word. Right-click in the right pane, choose New > String Value, type NoStartPage, and press Enter.

Bonus tip: As I mentioned above, I keep my trips to the Registry to a minimum, but if you find yourself opening the Registry Editor on a regular basis, create a desktop shortcut that opens the utility. Just right-click the desktop, choose New > Shortcut, enter the path to the Registry Editor executable file (it's probably C:\Windows\regedit.exe), give the shortcut a name, and press Enter to create the shortcut.

Go one step further by adding a keyboard shortcut that opens the utility. To do so, right-click the shortcut you just created and choose Properties. Click in the "Shortcut key" text box under the shortcut tab, enter the key combination of your choice (Ctrl-Alt-R is one possibility), and click OK.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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