Why are icons arranged neatly on the monitor?

Have you ever wondered why your Windows computer screen starts with a blue background and icons appear in a nice column on the left side of the screen? Or how the computer remembers your Internet Service Provider when you connect to the Internet? Or why the tool bars are at the bottom of the screen instead at the top?

If you think about it, somewhere inside the computer there must be some place where all this information is collected and stored so that the computer “remembers” how you want things to operate. When you decide the opening screen should be green instead of blue, the computer must remember. The computer also has to remember to store saved items in “My Documents” unless you tell it otherwise.

Ever since the availability of Microsoft Windows 95, this information has been stored inside two computer files called the Windows Registry. In older versions of Windows, this information was scattered in a number of so called “.INI” files but these were limited in the amount of information they could “remember.” Incidentally, Apple, Linux and other operating systems also must store this information someplace inside their computers.

Unfortunately, as Windows has become more complicated, the Registry expanded and became even more mysterious. Delving into the Registry is not for the faint hearted since improper or inadvertent changes can cause the computer to function incorrectly.

If you are interested in more detail about the Registry, search Google for “Windows registry.” For the more adventuresome, go to Start, Run and type “regedit” and then look but be careful about touching.

All of this might seem rather “so what,” but as you use your computer, many changes to the Registry take place. And, after some time, many of these changes no longer are needed and can, in fact, slow down computer operation or even cause strange messages to appear in strange places. I.e., every so often, the Registry needs cleaning.

Google “Windows registry cleaning” and you will find hundreds of software products that will help clean the Registry. I use Registry Mechanic, a $29.95 program available at This goes through the entire Registry and finds either incorrect or no longer needed entries and then “repairs” them. The first time I tried Registry Mechanic, it found over 350 questionable entries that I then let the program fix. Now I run it weekly and it still finds 20 or so orphan entries. I think my computer runs faster after these cleanings but this might be psychological. Anyway, I feel better after running Registry Mechanic.

My friend, Jim Mathews, “The Virus King,” (714-544-1217), uses another program in addition to Registry Mechanic, called Startup Mechanic, a free download at It scans the computer for everything that starts automatically and tells which are “Necessary,” “Useful,” “Useless,” “Harmful” or “Unknown.” There are good descriptions of each item and Jim says that many viruses are found here that regular virus protection programs miss. When I installed it, I did find a number of “useless” items and a couple of virus items. Give this program a try, it’s free.

I realize that how the computer works is not high on the learning priority list for most people. However, knowing that sometimes strange things happen with computers and that there are ways to alleviate some of these might be of interest. There are other reasons that computers may slow down and strange messages appear, but these two programs may help with some of these problems.

If you would like to hear more about the Registry or other computer topics, visit “Coffee and Computers” at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. ‘C’ Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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