The last time Windows' System Restore failed on me, I didn't blink an eye. I gave up trusting Microsoft's own Registry safety net a long time ago. And considering the quality Registry freeware available, there's no reason you should rely on Windows to repair and recover from Registry-related problems. These four freebies will keep the Windows engine purring like a kitten.
Clear out the clutter with CCleaner
Piriform's popular Windows-optimization utility includes a Registry-scrubbing component that clears out old application paths, ActiveX controls, shared DLLs, fonts, icons, and other Registry detritus. The program gives you the option to fix some or all of the problems it discovers, and before it starts the cleanup you can create a Registry backup so your system can be rolled back if something goes wrong. Two nice extras are CCleaner's options for uninstalling programs on your system, and for clearing the temporary files and recent-file lists from Firefox, Office, Windows Media Player, and other popular apps.
ERUNT out-restores System Restore
Windows' built-in Registry backup utility is better than having no Registry backup at all, but just barely. It seems the times I need it most are the times System Restore is most likely to crap out. Lars Hederer's Emergency Recovery Utility NT program has been saving Windows users' bacon for many years. Despite the program's name, it works with Windows 2000, XP, and Vista as well. You can set the program to back up the Registry every time Windows starts, or create backups manually to the folder of your choice. The accompanying Registry optimizer is just as quick and simple to use as the backup program. ERUNT lets you back up the Registry for all users on the system, or selected users, and it even provides command-line switches for automating backups and restores. It works when Windows fails to load, though doing so may require a boot disc (which you can create with the great BartPE freeware).
Keep an eye on the Registry with Process Monitor
Sysinternals combined its FileMon and RegMon system-monitoring utilities into this program, which gives you a snapshot of your PC's activity in real time. In fact, Process Monitor provides so much information that it's difficult to keep up with the file and program activity it tracks. You can view your system activity in a simple graph, and display a summary of file and Registry accesses. There's even an option to log activity during the next Windows boot to help diagnose startup problems. A geek could easily kill the better part of an afternoon just rambling around the many monitoring options provided, though the program is most valuable when it's used to track down a system problem.
Find your keys faster with RegScanner
NiriSoft's Registry-scanning utility makes it easy to navigate to a specific Registry key, and then open it in Windows' Registry Editor by double-clicking the entry, or by clicking File > Open In RegEdit (the keyboard shortcut is Alt-F, R). Other time-saving features let you copy a Registry key to the Clipboard and then open the Registry Editor to that key automatically, and to scan for all keys containing a specific value. You can also search by data length, value type, or date modified.
Tomorrow: maximize your Office workspace.