"My computer seems to get slower and slower. A friend told me to clean my registry. Will that really help, and how can I do that?"
Cleaning the Registry
Yes, your computer will run better if you occasionally clean your Windows system registry. But first, let's define exactly what the registry is. The registry is a database in which Windows keeps track of relationships between hardware and software. It stores all the settings and options for the operating system, hardware, software, users, and preferences of the PC. The registry manages your system startup options, and keeps track of all software that's installed.
Prior to the introduction of the Registry in Windows 95, each software package had it's own INI files to store configuration settings. These files tended to be scattered all over the hard drive, which made them difficult to keep track of. The centralized registry does consolidate all that information, but it has its own problems. Since it is a single point of failure, damage to the Registry can render a Windows system unbootable, and in extreme cases can only be fixed by reinstalling the operating system. (That's why backups are important!)
Oh, That Waxy Buildup!
Especially on Windows 95/98 computers, it's common for the registry to grow very large over time, which tends to slow down the computer's startup and can make it unstable. And even on Windows NT, XP or 200x, you can end up with lots of unnecessary registry entries that are created when you install or remove programs on your computer. Sometimes an "orphaned" registry entry can confuse Windows during startup and cause a delay. And in general, slimming down your registry will make Windows run faster.
The REGEDIT command will allow you to view and edit the registry, but if you don't know what you're doing under the hood, just put down that wrench and back away slowly. Specialized programs exist to examine the registry, compare what's in there to what's really on your system, and either correct or delete erroneous entries.
REGCLEAN is a utility program included in Windows 95 and Windows 98. This program is no longer officially supported by Microsoft, but many users report that it works fine on Windows XP systems. You can also try RegSeeker which is a highly rated (and free) registry cleaner that I like. There are dozens of registry cleaners available. If you want to play the field, read some reviews by reputable sources before you install.
Making Windows Faster
I should also mention that there are lots of other things that can cause your computer to bog down. Viruses, spyware, a hard drive that needs defragmenting, and other factors can contribute to the problem. In my article Make Windows XP Run Faster! I share my special recipe to clean the icky goo out of your computer's pipes, so Windows will start quicker, run more reliably, and go faster on the info-superhighway.
BOB RANKIN... is a tech writer and computer programmer who enjoys exploring the Internet and sharing the fruit of his experience with others. His work has appeared in ComputerWorld, NetGuide, and NY Newsday. Bob is publisher of the Internet TOURBUS newsletter, author of several computer books, and creator of the http://LowfatLinux.com website. Visit Bob Rankin's website for more helpful articles and free tech support.