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Customize your list of recent documents in XP and Vista

Change a Registry setting to increase or decrease the number of items shown on the Start menu.

Windows XP's Documents list (a.k.a. "My Recent Documents") and Vista's Recent Items are useful Start menu shortcuts that I'm always forgetting about.

Yesterday I described how to change the number of recently opened files that appear in Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007. But it's even quicker to reopen a file you've worked on recently and its application with a single click of the file's shortcut on the Start menu.

If you don't see My Recent Documents on XP's Start menu, right-click the Start button and choose Properties. Click Customize > Advanced, select "List my most recently opened documents" under "Recent documents," and click OK twice. To show Recent Items on the Start menu in Vista, right-click the Start button, choose Properties, click the Start Menu tab, select "Store and display a list of recently opened files," and click OK.

Windows Vista's Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box
Show Windows Vista's Recent Items on the Start menu by checking this option in Taskbar and Start Menu Properties. Microsoft

To clear the list in XP, return to the Start Menu Advanced Properties dialog box, choose Clear List, and click OK twice. Do the same in Vista by right-clicking Recent Items on the Start menu and choosing Clear Recent Items List.

If you would prefer not to have Windows keep a record of your recently opened files, or you'd like to change the number of entries on this menu, you can do so by editing the Registry. Before you begin, back up the Registry by using System Restore to create a restore point.

With your Registry backup in place, press the Windows key (Vista) or click Start > Run (XP), type regedit, and press Enter. In XP, navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Policies/Explorer. In Vista, the key you want to select is HKEY_CURRENT_USER/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Explorer.

In both versions, double-click NoRecentDocsHistory. If no such key exists, right-click in the right pane, select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value, and name the key NoRecentDocsHistory.

In the Value Data field, enter 1. When you restart Windows, your recent documents list will be history.

To change the number of files listed on this menu, double-click MaxRecentDocs in the same pane--or if there's no such key, right-click, select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value, name the new key MaxRecentDocs, and double-click it. Enter the number of documents you want to show in the Value Data field, and click OK.

Tomorrow: customizing the history settings in Internet Explorer and Firefox.