What is The Registry?

keyboard with toolsThe registry is a huge database on Windows computers that stores information essential for running Windows and the individual programs that are installed. It also stores information such as the lists of “most recently used” documents that are often available in programs such as word processors and spreadsheets. This database is automatically updated by Windows and the programs using it. The registry is absolutely essential for the running of a Windows computer and the integrity of its structure is also absolutely essential. Never mess with the registry unless you know what you are doing and what the consequences might be.

Why clean it?

Cleaning the registry used to be just a part of “housekeeping” to keep a Windows computer running smoothly and as fast as possible. Nowadays, though, users often encounter registry cleaners when surfing the web to find solutions to problems involving malware and viruses. In this context, the registry is a place that can harbour nasty things, so cleaning it is intended as a way of removing these.

What are Registry Cleaners?

Genuine registry cleaners are programs that scour the registry looking for, and fixing, problems with individual items such as orphans items (settings that refer to programs that are no longer installed) and redundant items (such as those referring to previous versions of installed programs). They now also claim to search the registry looking for (and removing) entries that enable malware to run. These are all tasks that are very difficult, if not impossible, to carry out manually on account of the sheer size of the registry and the difficulty for humans in deciphering just what the individuals entries are.

Why not use Registry Cleaners?

Even if they do any good at all, the benefit is an insignificant drop in the ocean. I have been unable to find any evidence whatever that there is any measurable improvement to a system that has had its registry cleaned. Also, as the hardware resources have improved (size and speed of memory, hard drive space, processing speed and power), the effects of having a marginally sub-optimal registry database have probably become less significant. Indeed, Microsoft don’t even provide any method of cleaning the registry. They used to have a product called Windows Live OneCare that included a registry cleaner but support for that ceased in April 2011 and I don’t know of any successor.

Even if the registry cleaner is “well meaning” and is trying to do nothing but good to your system it may break it. And when I say “break it” I mean “really break it” – from rendering individual programs unusable to rendering the entire system unbootable. Short of a hard drive failure, this is just about as serious as it gets. Even if the risk of breaking the registry is low, the consequences of breaking it are very high so the potential marginal benefits are just not worth seeking out.

Moreover, a lot of so-called registry cleaners are not only ineffective and/or incompetent, they are also intent on doing harm. This usually takes the form of trying to convince you that your registry is full of problems and that you must pay for the program to clean the system up. This “persuasion” (by what is usually called a “scareware” program) can even extend to hijacking your system and holding you to ransom. In this case, the “registry cleaner” is out-and-out malware. The program takes control of your computer and holds it to ransom – you must buy the program to get control back. It gets much worse than that, of course, as buying their program does not guarantee that that will be the end of the issue and you have now given your credit card details to extortionists. Not wise.

What are the alternatives?

As far as optimising the registry is concerned, forget it. Life’s too short. It’s not worth worrying about and not worth taking the risk of breaking it.

As far as malware removal is concerned, use a free reputable malware removal tool such as MalwareBytes and/or SpyBot.

If you have an older version of Microsoft Office (Office 2003, Office XP, Office 2000), or just an individual component of one of those packages (eg Word or Excel), then you may have difficulty reading documents created by newer versions (Office 2007 and Office 2010). To put the boot on the other foot, you may have emailed a document of the newer type as an attachment, only to have the recipient tell you that they can not read it.

That is because the structure of the documents changed with the 2007 version.

File Extensions

Depending on how your installation of Windows is set up, you may or may not see the “file extension” of each file when you view a list of files in Windows Explorer. The file extension is the part of the file name that comes after the full stop. The file extension tells Windows what type of file it is and Windows maintains a list of which program is used with each file type (in Windows jargon, each file type is “associated” with a specific program).

In Office 2003 and before, Word files had a file extension of .doc (eg “Letter to Father Christmas.doc”). Excel spreadsheets were .xls files (eg “Scalextric Costs.xls”) and PowerPoint files were .ppt files (eg “Pitch to Father Christmas For A Scalextric Set.ppt”).

From Office 2007, Word files have become .docx, Excel files are .xlsx, and PowerPoint files are .pptx. These file types are not compatible with earlier versions of the programs.

Compatibility

If you have one of the newer versions of Office then you have no problem in opening, viewing and editing files created in an earlier version. However, if you have an earlier version you can not open files created in a later version.

Solutions

Save As

If you have a later version, and are preparing a document for opening on an earlier version, then the simplest solution is to create a version of the document that is in the format of the earlier version. To do this, open or create the document and then use the “save as” command instead of the normal “save” command.

Normally, the different ways of saving a file are as follows:

  • Use the shortcut key combination of Ctrl s (hitting the “s” key while simultaneously holding the Control key down).
  • Click on the little blue icon of the floppy disc that is probably visible on the top line of the screen.
  • Click on the “Office” button and then click on the “save” command.
Office Button

Office Button

Each of these methods will save the file in the newer format. What you need to do instead is to click on the “Office” button, then take the “save as” option, and then take the “..97-2003 document” sub-option (as illustrated). The recipient of your file will then be able to use it as if it had been created in the earlier version of the program.

file save-as dialogue box

 

Document Viewers

You can actually view and print documents prepared in Microsoft Office even if you do not have Office installed. This is achieved by downloading and installing free viewers made available by Microsoft. Click on the following links for the appropriate viewer (see note at the bottom of this post) :

Word Viewer
Excel Viewer
Powerpoint Viewer

Compatibility Viewer

The above viewers are just that – you can view or print documents but you can’t edit them. A better solution for users who have earlier versions of Office is to download the free “compatibility pack” from Microsoft. This is available at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/923505.

You do have to carefully follow the instructions that are appropriate for your version of Windows.

The Compatibility Pack is for Office 2000, Office XP, and Office 2003. If you still have Office 97, or a component of it, then you need to either use the viewer or ask the author of the document to provide a compatible version of it using the “save as” option as described above.


Note:

I’m having to give up my previous practice of always quoting hyperlinks in full as some of them are just too long. If you are viewing this as a post on the blog then, depending on your internet browser, you can probably see the full version of the link if you hover your mouse over the link and then look towards the bottom of the browser window. If you are viewing the newsletter version, then hovering your mouse over the link should show you the full address of the link.

Something light and easy this week. These are some of my favourite, and not necessarily geeky, websites.

Hopefully, there will be one or two that you will find interesting. They are not listed in any particular order.

http://downloads.cnet.co.uk/ – I have mentioned before that I like to download software using Cnet’s links as I can be reasonably sure that I’m actually getting the download that I want and not a malicious fake. I used to believe that it’s also a good idea to use Cnet as they claim that their downloads are free of spyware and viruses etc. I don’t rely on that any more as I recently found that at least one of their downloads included spyware. I still use the site, but now I look at any comments on any piece of software before downloading it.

http://journeyplanner.tfl.gov.uk/user/XSLT_TRIP_REQUEST2?language=en&execInst=&sessionID=0&ptOptionsActive=-1&place_destination=London – I use public transport for all client visits. TFL’s Journey Planner is surprisingly accurate in its forecasts of journey times (particularly if you are only using the tube and walking).

http://howsecureismypassword.net/ – You won’t have hours of fun on this website, but it’s a very simple way of showing you just how insecure your favourite password might be! If this site doesn’t work for you then it means you don’t have Java installed. You can install it from http://java.com/en/download/index.jsp.

http://www.private-eye.co.uk/ – Not the whole magazine, but still worth a look (the joke on the front cover is included).

http://www.timeout.com/london/ – A good place to start when looking for events or entertainment in London.

http://www.nhs.uk/Pages/HomePage.aspx – There seems to be a lot of info on this site, including local GPs and the services they offer.

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/inflation/calculator/flash/index.htm – Calculator showing how prices have risen between any 2 years between 1750 and 2010.

http://www.wolfbane.com/rpi.htm – Monthly RPI figures since 1915.

http://www.pcpro.co.uk/ – The website of the best computer magazine.

http://www.pcworld.com/#new – Good for computer news and reviews. This is the website of the magazine of this name – not the chain of shops.

http://www.webpagepublicity.com/free-fonts-p2.html#Free%20Fonts – More free fonts than you can shake a stick at.

http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sha2.htm – This one’s for lovers of the English Language. This particular link discusses the phrase used above – “more……than you can shake a stick at”.

http://www.tucows.com/ – Trustworthy source of freeware/shareware (software that is either free, or very reasonably priced).

http://www.zdnet.co.uk/ – Technology news site.

http://www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk/ – Does what it says on the tin – but you do need Java to be installed, so if the speedchecker doesn’t work, install Java from http://java.com/en/download/index.jsp.

http://www.davidleonard.net/ – Me – combined website and blog – please visit often!

Replacement laptop batteries cost anything from about £40 to £150. That’s a lot of money, so it makes sense to treat your battery so as to give it the best chance of outlasting the machine. It is very common for the battery to fail after two to three years, but you probably want the machines to last from three to six years.

The best treatment of the battery varies depending upon the type. Somewhere on the battery itself (and you may need to remove it from the machine to find the relevant label), you should find a description as being “Li-ion” (or “lithium ion”) or “NiMH” (or “nickel-metal hydride”.)

NiMH batteries – completely drain the battery every now and again. Do this by using the machine while it is not connected to the power supply until the machine tells you the battery is flat and needs to be re-charged. Do this every month or two. There may be more specific instructions about how often to do this either on the battery itself or on documentation that came with it. If you always use the laptop connected to the mains then the battery will last longer if you completely remove it. If you do this, then put it back in and drain/re-charge it every few months. Incidentally, it can make a laptop much more confortable to use on your lap if the battery isn’t connected as the battery weight is a considerable part of the total weight.

Li-ion batteries – here the advice is NOT to drain the battery completely. On the contrary, keep some charge in it at all times. Again, I would recommend removing it entirely if you are usually connected to mains power, but check it occasionally to make sure it’s got some charge in it and top it up every now and again (see below for checking the charge). The advice with Li-ion batteries is to store them partially charged.

How do you know if the battery is “wearing out”?

It probably won’t charge to 100% and the amount of time you get on each charge reduces. You may eventually get a message popping up telling you to replace the battery.

Remove a nearly dead battery?

It seems sensible to leave a dying battery in the laptop while running the machine off the mains. The theory, of course, is that if the power supply is interrupted then you still have an opportunity to close everything down nicely without problems. Normally I agree, but if you start to get strange things happening to your computer – such as a noticeable time lag between hitting a key and seeing it onscreen – then try removing the failing battery. It seems as if the laptop diverts power to charge a failing battery at the expense of other parts of the system. I may be wrong on why this happens, but it is certainly the case that “keyboard lag” can sometimes be cured by removing a failing battery.

How can I tell how charged the battery is?

Both Macs and PCs have options for displaying an on-screen icon that shows how much charge is in the battery. When the battery is not connected, you can usually get an idea of its state of charge by a series of LED lights on the underside of the battery that are accompanied by a small button (see illustration – yellow highlight). Pressing the button will illuminate the number of LED lights that correspond to the current state of charge.

How do I remove the battery?

Turn the laptop upside down. Batteries come in all sizes and proportions but you are looking for a rectangle that has one or two catches along one side. Typically, one of these catches is not spring-loaded so you can slide it to the open position (usually indicated by an open padlock symbol) and let go. Then push the other catch against the spring and slide or lift the battery out of the case at the same time. See the red highlights in the illustration for spring-loaded and non-sprung catches on a Samsung Q35 battery. Mac batteries are often held in place with a button with a slot across it. Turn the slot by 90 degress and the battery can be removed. Some Mac batteries can’t be removed except by professional repairers as they are entirely contained within the case rather than attached to the underside of it (eg the MacBook Pro).

Extending Battery Life

Given that it would be nice to extend the battery’s life so that it never needs replacing, it may be worth bearing in mind that the more a battery is used, the more of its life is used up, so reducing un-necessary use of the battery may help. Apart from completely removing the battery and running off the mains for most of the time, here are a few suggestions for reducing battery use:

  • Ensure that the laptop at least goes into “sleep” mode if left unattended when running from the battery.
  • All operating systems have options for balancing computer performance against the length of time each battery charge will last. The longer each charge lasts, the longer the battery itself will last.
  • Try to keep the air vents around the casing of the laptop clear of dust, fluff, and nearby obstructions. A good flow of air through the laptop is essential to keep the electronics working within specific temperature limits. If it gets hot then the fan will cut in. The fan needs power and this will come from the battery if the laptop is not connected to the mains. The best way to keep the vents clear of dust is by blowing air into them from an “air duster” (a can of compressed air – available from PC World, Maplins, Rymans etc).
© 2011-2014 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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