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.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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