5 neat Registry hacks for Windows 7

There are plenty of folks still using Windows 7, of course – the majority who refuse to move on to Microsoft’s brave new Windows 8 (Metro/new-style and touch-focused) world. And so we’re running a range of Windows 7 tips articles this week, covering some handy tricks which you may not know about.

In this article, we’re diving into the Registry, and have dug up five tweaks that you can make to drastically change the way Windows 7 looks and behaves, most of which require spending only a few minutes in Regedit. (One requires spending a few seconds in Windows Explorer, too).

Insert the standard disclaimer here: Playing around in the Registry can be potentially dangerous to your computer, so don’t dive in unless you feel confident about looking for, and changing, things in the Registry.

The easiest way to start Regedit is to hit the Window key on your keyboard, type regedit, and then hit Enter. (You can also do this by clicking on the Start button as well). Before you make any changes it’s probably smart to back up the key or subkey you’re planning on tinkering with. Once you’ve navigated to the key you’re planning to change, right click on it and select “Export” from the pop-up menu. Pick a location to save the resulting REG file, and you’re protected.

In this article, Registry entries are frequently represented with quotation marks around them for clarity; you shouldn’t type those in when you’re making your changes. And once you’ve changed a key, it won’t take effect right away – you’ll need to exit Windows and restart first.

Have a favourite Registry tweak or hack of your own? Let us know in the comments.

Change your logon screen background

Changing the wallpaper on your desktop is one of the easiest things to do in Windows. But if you can have that display any image you want, why not do the same with your logon screen?

1. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindows

CurrentVersionAuthenticationLogonUIBackground.

2. Find the “OEMBackground” key; or right click in the right pane and select “New,” then “DWORD (32-bit) Value” to create it (and then give it that name).

3. Double click on “OEMBackground” to open it.

4. Change the value in the “Value data” field to 1.

5. Click OK.

6. Using Windows Explorer, navigate to your Windows directory, then System32oobe. If there’s a folder in here called “info,” go into it; if there’s a folder inside of that one called “backgrounds,” go into that. If neither exists, you’ll need to create them both first.

7. Copy the image (it must be a JPEG, and smaller than 256KB in size) you want to use as your logon screen background into the infobackgrounds folder.

8. Rename the image backgroundDefault.jpg. (Note: If you choose an image that’s sized differently than your desktop and you change your resolution, it will be adjusted to fit – with a possible loss in quality. The infobackground folder also supports 12 other files of specific resolutions. The files should be named backgroundXXXXX.jpg, where the XXXXX is one of the following: 900x1440, 960x1280, 1024x1280, 1280x1024, 1024x768, 1280x960, 1600x1200, 1440x900, 1920x1200, 1280x768, or 1360x768. For example, background1920x1200.jpg will be used at 1,920 x 1,200 resolution, and so on).

The next time you restart your computer, or log out, you’ll see this image as the new logon screen. If you chose an image that prevents the buttons and text from looking their best on the logon screen, you can adjust their appearance as well.

1. Navigate back to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindows

CurrentVersionAuthenticationLogonUI (you’re not going into Background this time).

2. Add a DWORD value called “ButtonSet.”

3. Change its value to either 1 (darker text shadows and lighter buttons, intended for lighter backgrounds) or 2 (no text shadows and opaque buttons, for darker backgrounds); 0 is the Windows default.

Change Taskbar button stacked window behaviour

By default, the Taskbar groups together multiple windows of a single app, then displays all of them as thumbnails when you click on the program’s Taskbar icon. If you think it would be handier to have Windows automatically open the last window when you click the icon, you can make that happen.

1. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindows

CurrentVersionExplorerAdvanced.

2. Right click in the right pane, and select “New” then “DWORD (32-bit) Value.”

3. Rename the new DWORD value “LastActiveClick.”

4. Double click on LastActiveClick to open it.

5. Change the value in the “Value data” field to 1.

6. Click OK.

Change the width of Taskbar buttons

Windows 7 is set up to always combine Taskbar buttons from the same program and never display their labels. If, however, you’ve changed the setting to either not combine the windows at all or to only combine them when the Taskbar is full, you can change the icons’ width to hide the labels there, too. Here’s how.

1. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USERControl PanelDesktopWindowMetrics.

2. Scroll to find the “MinWidth” entry. If it’s not there, you’ll have to create it yourself. Right click in the right pane, select New, then Select “String Value,” and name the object MinWidth.

3. Double click MinWidth to open it.

4. Change the number in the “Value Data” field to the width you want to allot to the icons. With the default small buttons, 38 is sufficient; with the larger icons, you’ll want about 52.

5. Click OK.

Change the delay time of Taskbar previews

Taskbar previews appear when you hover the mouse cursor over the Taskbar icon of a currently running program. But when you do this, the preview doesn’t appear immediately. Luckily, it’s easy to speed it up (or, for whatever reason, slow it down).

1. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindows

CurrentVersionExplorerAdvanced.

2. Right click in the right pane, click “New,” and click “DWORD Value” or “DWORD (32-bit) Value.”

3. Name the new DWORD “ExtendedUIHoverTime.”

4. Double click on ExtendedUIHoverTime to open it.

5. Click the “Decimal” radio button in the “Base” section. In the “Value data” field, enter the delay time (in milliseconds) for the preview to appear. (The Windows standard is 400ms).

6. Click OK to commit the change.

When you hover the mouse cursor over one of the previews, all your other windows will disappear and show just that window. There’s a delay associated with this, too. To change this, add a new DWORD in the same location called “ThumbnailLivePreviewHoverTime,” and edit it the same way as above, setting its value to whatever you want (in ms).

Change the delay time of Aero Peek

Aero Peek is activated when you move your mouse cursor over the icon at the right end of the Taskbar, turning all your Windows invisible. But this, too, has a delay time associated with it, so if you find yourself accidentally activating it too often, you may want to increase the delay time. Here’s how.

1. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindows

CurrentVersionExplorerAdvanced.

2. Right click in the right pane, click “New,” and click “DWORD Value” or “DWORD (32-bit) Value.”

3. Name the new DWORD “DesktopLivePreviewHoverTime.”

4. Double click on DesktopLivePreviewHoverTime to open it.

5. Click the “Decimal” radio button in the “Base” section. In the “Value data” field, enter the delay time (in milliseconds) for the preview to appear. (The Windows standard is 1,000ms).

6. Click OK to commit the change.