To change annoying settings, scrub up for nitty-gritty surgery

John McCormick

I got an interesting question by e-mail the other day. A GCN reader had what he thought was a simple task, but he couldn't find any help with it in Microsoft Corp.'s print or online documentation. He wanted to limit the possible responses from the AutoComplete feature in the Internet Explorer 5 browser.

When you first key a Web uniform resource locator into the browser's address line, you must supply the full URL to get where you want to go. Explorer subsequently tries to help by completing the URL itself, but it often makes mistakes.

As you key in the first characters, Explorer consults a database built up automatically from earlier entries. You can see, but not edit, the possible addresses by clicking on the down arrow at the right side of the Address bar.

Difficult to change

AutoComplete also tries to fill out online forms and passwords, but the information stored on your computer is encrypted for safety. That causes a problem when you want to alter the data.

In Explorer 5.0, you can adjust global AutoComplete settings for Web addresses, passwords and online forms by clicking on Tools, Internet Options, Content and AutoComplete personal information.

Here you can check or uncheck each AutoComplete option, or clear forms or passwords. You can even clear all the Web address entries by clicking on General, Clear History.

But there's no easy way to remove or edit single items.

If you're brave enough, foolish enough or skilled enough, you can delve deep into the AutoComplete data stored in the Windows Registry database, where 32-bit Windows keeps basic configuration data.

For Explorer 4, the directory is HKEY_USERS\Default\Software\Microsoft\InternetExplorer\TypedURLs.

For Explorer 5 it's HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\InternetExplorer\Main\UrlTemplate. It shows a number of string values whose data is a template of the form www.xs.com or www.xs.edu.

If you want to alter these settings, first carefully read the Windows Help topic: 'Replacing your Registry with the backup.'

Seriously, there are a lot of useful and relatively safe things you can do with the Registry. It's easy to examine entries. Just click on the Start button, select Run and key in regedit to start up RegEdit, the Microsoft utility for viewing and editing the settings.

Without RegEdit or a third-party editor, you will have trouble finding the Registry, because in Windows 9x it is inside two hidden files, user.dat and system.dat. Running RegEdit locates and opens the files automatically, but editing the Registry can be dangerous; that's why you won't find RegEdit mentioned in the Windows Help files.

regedit.exe itself is in the Windows directory. Systems managers often delete it so that workers with a bit of idle time won't decide to experiment.

If you are authorized to make changes to the Registry, check out the useful information on the Web site, at www.regedit.com.

You can automatically clean up Registry files with a free Microsoft utility called RegClean. Download it from ftp://ftp.microsoft.com/Softlib/MSLFILES/REGCLEAN.EXE.

Here's one of the useful tips you'll find at www.regedit.com. When you install new software, the user name and organization normally are filled in automatically. If and when they change, it would be nice if you could correct the information.

Do this by going to the directory HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\MS Setup (ACME)\User Info. The changes won't affect previously installed software.

New registration

You can also change the registered owner and organization entered when Windows was first installed. The values to edit are RegisteredOwner and RegisteredOrganization, which www.regedit.com tells you to look for in the Windows 9x directory HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion. For Windows NT, it appears at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion.

I got tired of looking for these files and so will you. Remember that RegEdit has a simple search function to find obscure files.

A final word of caution: Fooling around with any Registry entries is likely to cause Windows to crash, so be sure you know what you're doing. You should always make backups when learning to use RegEdit.

If you ever wondered where real nitty-gritty Windows editing is done, it is here. Many changes that ought to be easy can only be done at the Registry level.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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