New in Plain Text

By Peter Piazza

The registry is a database within a computer that stores information about the computer’s configuration. If you’ve ever found that a fix to your computer involved changing the registry, you know that any such advice is preceded by dire warnings that if you make a mistake while editing the registry, the computer may become unusable. This alert has probably warned off most novices.

If you want to try some of the recommended hacks from Windows XP Hacks: Tips & Tools for Optimizing Your OS, however, you’ll have to put aside any compunction you might have about tweaking the registry. You’ll also have to change your idea about what a “hack” is; in its nonpejorative form, as meant here, it simply refers to an innovative solution (and perhaps one that was never considered by the original creators) to a programming problem.

In this new text from O’Reilly Media, author Preston Gralla uses registry hacks to help make Windows XP run more smoothly. He even names one hack “Don’t Fear the Registry” and then provides eight hacks that use the registry “to do their magic.”

Though the book is not aimed at beginners, Gralla explains these tweaks clearly and in great depth, so changes can be made with little worry that the computer will be unusable. Another hack explains how to make a backup of the registry, just in case you do make a mistake.

Gralla devotes a full chapter to security, from hiding folders and files with XP’s built-in encryption system to setting up a proxy server and a virtual private network. This last hack allows you to set up a secure connection to your home computer that you can access from your office or while traveling, which can be of great value to anyone who’s ever been writing a document on a home computer and forgotten to bring it to the office.

The 120 hacks in the book range in complexity from beginner to expert, but even the expert hacks provide enough information for a daring user to try.

Gralla, who’s written dozens of computer books and written for and edited a number of computer magazines and Web sites, has an easily readable style and uses his own experiences as the basis of many of the hacks (system beeps and balloon tips are “gnatlike annoyances that I can do without”).

Anyone who’s ever wondered how to make Windows XP work better, or more securely, can learn a lot from this book, available from O’Reilly for $29.95.



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