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Windows XP hints and tips

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Back up the registry

Windows stores most of its configuration settings in the registry and most programs store some, if not all their configuration settings in the registry too. It's a sort of database that Windows and programs can access and all sorts of information gets stored in it. It's important information too and if the registry is damaged the computer might not work properly, so it's a good idea to back it up.

There are several ways to back up the information in the registry and Windows actually backs it up automatically. You can make additional backups yourself and you might want to do this when you are about to make a major change to the hardware or software in your computer. Click Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore. Select Create a restore point and click Next. Give the restore point a short, but descriptive name and click Create. That's it, you've made a backup of the registry.

You can also back up the registry using the registry editor. Click Start, Run and enter regedit to load it. Select My Computer, which is at the top of the left-hand pane and click File, Export. Make sure the All option is selected in the Export Registry File window, then name the file and click Save. The file that is saved is your backup, so don't lose it.

Some Windows tips involve making a change to the registry and a mistake could lead to unexpected problems. It is therefore a good idea to make a backup before making any changes so that you can put things back the way they were if something goes wrong. You don't need to back up the whole registry though, just the bit that you are about to change. Select the key that you are going to change in the left-hand pane - it looks like a folder - and click File, Export. This time in the Export Registry File window the Selected Branch option is selected. It means that only the selected item will be saved. This is just what we want. Name the file and save it.

Restore the registry

Now you know how to back up the registry, how do you restore it? You can use System Restore to replace the current registry, for example, if it is damaged, with a good one you saved earlier. Click Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore. Select Restore my computer to an earlier time and click Next. Choose any bold date in the calendar that is displayed. These are days on which backups were made either manually by you or automatically by Windows. If more than one restore point is displayed, choose the best one (usually the most recent one when Windows was working OK. Click Next and then Next again. Windows will restart and when the desktop appears again the registry will have been overwritten with the backed up one.

Backups made using the registry editor are a piece of cake to restore. Regedit saves files with a .reg extension and when you double click them on the desktop or in an Explorer window they are automatically imported into the registry. The information in the .reg file overwrites whatever is currently in the registry, reversing any changes that were made.

Customising folders

You can customise Explorer windows and show your own icons, pop-up info tips and so on by creating a desktop.ini file and saving it to a folder. A few folders already have a desktop.ini file and you'll probably find one in the My Documents folder. Before you go looking, you should realise that it is a hidden file, so unless you have set Explorer to show hidden files you won't see it.

Open any folder, like My Documents, and select Tools, Folder Options. Click the View tab and select Show hidden files and folders. You should also clear the tick against Hide extensions for known file types.

Look in My Documents and you'll probably see a file called desktop.ini. If you double click it, it will be opened in Notepad because it's a plain text file. We won't change this one and instead we will create a custom desktop.ini file for a different folder. Start Notepad or select File, New if it is already running and enter the following text on the first line:

[.ShellClassInfo]

On the lines below you can use the following settings:

  • ConfirmFileOp: Set this to zero to avoid a "You Are Deleting a System Folder" message when deleting or moving a folder.
  • NoSharing: Set this to 1 to prevent the folder from being shared over a network.
  • Iconfile: Set this to a small image (32 x 32 pixels) saved as a .ico or .bmp file and it will be used as the icon image in an Explorer window.
  • IconIndex: It's possible to store multiple icons in a file using icon creation software and if you do this you need to say which number icon you want to use. 0 is the first one, so if you only have one icon in the file set this to 0.
  • InfoTip: When the mouse hovers over the folder in an Explorer window, an info tip box will pop up with whatever message you enter here.

To give you an idea of what your file should look like in Notepad, here's one we cooked up earlier:

[.ShellClassInfo]
ConfirmFileOp=0
NoSharing=1
IconFile=myicon.ico
IconIndex=0
InfoTip=This folder contains all my photos

After you've finished typing this into Notepad, save it in the folder you want to customise as desktop.ini. Now look at the folder, in other words, go up a folder to view it. So if the folder is C:\MyFolder then open Explorer and look at C:\. Let the mouse hover over it to see the info tip.

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