Guest column: Registry reconfiguration reaps rewards

Last week, we discussed (and dissed) the Windows registry system. A couple of points need to be clarified: In the discussion, we were talking about Windows 95 and 98 only; NT is -- surprise -- different. Gearhead will delve into Windows NT registries next week.

We also mentioned that when Windows is shut down, a backup copy of the SYSTEM.DAT file is created and called SYSTEM.DA0. Gearhead has found this isn't always true and is trying to find out why.

This week, we'll take a look at making changes to the Windows 98 registry (we won't consider Windows 95 ... it is passe). If you haven't attempted this kind of black magic before, there are a couple of things you need to do. First, cover yourself in ashes and sacrifice a small furry mammal while intoning "Bill, I do this for you." OK, I made that up.

What you really must do is back up the registry. Start the registry editor named REGEDIT (you can use "Run" on the Start Menu). Click on the "Registry" menu item and then on the "Export Registry File" and follow your nose. If you want to play it safe, you can make a backup copy of your backup on another machine. Be warned, making a copy on a floppy disk won't work -- the registry backup typically totals 8M bytes or more.

The saved file will have the extension .REG. You can restore the current registry settings by double-clicking the backup file (which asks whether you want to add the backup file to the registry) or right-clicking and then selecting "Merge" from the menu. Both methods overwrite the existing registry contents.

Now that you have made a backup, you can safely make changes. First some advice: Be careful. Don't change anything unless you absolutely know what it is for, and make one or two changes at a time and then test the system after rebooting.

So now we need to explain how the Windows 98 registry is organised. The registry is composed of "keys," which are text strings that identify subkeys or groups of subkeys, or identify "settings." Settings can be strings or binary numbers.

The six highest-level keys are called "root keys" and define groups of subkeys that apply to various static and dynamic settings that would take the next few months' worth of "Gearhead" columns to explain in detail. Accordingly, we'll leave researching this as an exercise for the reader.

What we will take a look at are some registry changes you may find useful. First, hiding the Network Neighborhood, a fix that prevents users from seeing the network in "file open" dialogs and Explorer (an important option that helps keep those wacko users in the dark).

Start REGEDIT and find the key HKEY_USERS. Under that you'll find the subkey .DEFAULT and ... well, the entire path you need to follow is HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\ Policies\Explorer.

If you click on the Explorer subkey, you'll see a number of settings listed. Select the menu item "Edit," then "New," then "DWORD value" and edit the resulting subkey name to read NoNetHood. Then change the Data value to 1 and on the next reboot, the Network Neighborhood will miraculously be invisible. Note that if NoNetHood is set to 0 or the subkey is missing, the Network Neighborhood will be visible.

Another useful hack is changing the Windows 98 source path. Say you've reconfigured your system so that the CD-ROM drive is no longer drive D: - it's now drive G:. The answer is to fire up REGEDIT and find the following: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\ Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Setup. Then find the name "SourcePath" and edit its data to reflect the new location.

While some of these settings can be changed through utilities such as Microsoft's TweakUI, there are a lot of modifications that you can only do to Windows 98 through the registry. Just be very, very careful.

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