The “Registry” Rant

An encounter with yet another old computer throwing a multitude of errors reminds us of a pet peeve–the Windows “registry.”  This bane of our existence has been around since the beginning of Windows. (Don’t feel so smug, Mac people–you have your own idiosyncrasies.) And what good’s a blog without an occasional rant….

In the simple days of DOS, software applications “kept themselves to themselves,” installing any extra bits and pieces they needed in their own separate areas. With the advent of Windows, however, someone had the bright idea to create a central file of settings for everything. And boy did they use it; it was chock full of hundreds, if not thousands, of entries before you even installed your own software.

Sounds good–unless you’ve graduated from Computing 101. A single point of failure for such a complicated environment is asking for trouble, and trouble is exactly what we’ve experienced countless times over the years. Yes, later Windows versions created multiple registry files, and included more self-healing functions, but that strikes us as  “lipstick on pig” engineering (no offense meant to pigs). Much as programmers pride themselves on covering every contingency, we never do (nor is it possible, as the future always brings surprises).

This design decision is also why you’re so often confronted with re-installing Windows when problems develop. Any number of things can make this house of cards tumble:  malware/viruses, bad updates, interrupted updates/installs, “just the right” power outage, etc. Your local “nerd herd” shop will spend a few minutes looking for easy fixes, then go straight to major surgery:  some form of re-installation, because that is a predictable amount of time.  That way they can charge some sort of flat rate(s); otherwise  hours can be spent attempting repairs that may or may not solve cascading problems.

But the registry is also why a rebuild is so painful–it forces you to then reinstall and configure all your software one at a time, so their settings are all entered back into the registry. Power users can spend days just setting up a PC, so we loathe the idea of recovery or moving to a new machine. (There are some third-party utilities that promise a more efficient backup/restore experience, that work to some degree, but it’s notable that such functionality is missing from Windows itself.)

So the registry has caused no end of hair-pulling over the years…and for those of us follicly-challenged as it is, represents trouble we don’t need. Job security, perhaps–but at what price?

— end of rant 🙄 —

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