Windows

Change the registered owner of Windows XP the easy way

You can change the registered owner of an installation of Windows XP with a Registry Hack, or you can do it the easy way with a little applet written by Windows expert Greg Shultz.

When you install any version of the Windows operating system, a part of the installation procedure prompts you to enter the user's name and the name of the user's company. This registration information is stored in the registry and can be changed by carefully editing the data with the Registry Editor. However, not everyone is comfortable with firing up the Registry Editor and delving into its data. Even if you're familiar with editing the registry, it's a time-consuming job. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just pop open a dialog box and enter the new registration information? Well, now you can.

Note: This tool was originally published in October 2002 and is designed for Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows -- not for Windows Vista or Windows 7.

I've developed the Registration Changer, a tool that makes quick work of this tedious task. To create the inner workings of the Registration Changer, I combined features made available by Windows Script Host and VBScript to create a script. Then, to give the utility a neat user interface, I packaged the script in an HTML Application (HTA). In this Daily Drill Down, I'll introduce you to my Registration Changer utility, which is available as a free download, and explain how it works.

A closer look at the registration information

Registration information, which consists of the owner's name and a company name (if specified), is stored in the registry as simple text strings. The owner's name is stored in the RegisteredOwner key, while the company name is stored in the RegisteredOrganization key. Registration information is displayed on the General tab of the System Properties dialog box under the Registered To heading, as shown in Figure A. Figure A

The user's name and the name of the user's company appear on the General tab of the System Properties dialog box under the Registered To heading.

This is fine as long as the user sticks with that system, but you'll want to change the entries when they pass along the system to someone else in the company.

Back up!

Always use caution when working with the registry. Unintentional changes made to the registry can cause the system to crash. Always back up your system before opening the registry.

As you may know, the underlying structure of the registry in each of the Microsoft operating systems is very similar. However, there are slight differences. In the Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me operating systems, the RegisteredOwner and RegisteredOrganization keys are stored in the key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion

In Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows XP, the keys are stored in the key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion

Blank keys

Keep in mind that either or both of the RegisteredOwner and RegisteredOrganization keys can be blank. In other words, the keys exist in the registry, but they contain an empty string.

Automating registry changes

As I mentioned, manually editing the registration information stored in the registry via the Registry Editor can be a tricky and time-consuming operation. Fortunately, the Windows Script Host provides programming methods that allow you to quickly and easily automate the process of editing the registry. The two methods that I use in this script are the RegRead and RegWrite methods.

As its name implies, the RegRead method allows you to access a key in the registry and read the value stored in that particular key. Likewise, the RegWrite method allows you to change the value of any particular key in the registry.

The Windows Script Host actually provides you with one more method for making modifications to the registry, the RegDelete method. However, since the Registration Changer utility doesn't really need to explicitly delete anything from the registry and because the RegWrite method can actually overwrite an existing value, I didn't need to use the RegDelete method in the script. Nevertheless, it's good to know that RegDelete is available.

In order to use the RegRead and RegWrite methods, you need to know the exact name of the key in the registry that you want to edit, as well as its exact path. You also need to know what type of data the key holds. Without getting into too much detail on this last point, there are actually four different data types that the registry contains: strings, 32-bit unsigned values, binary data, and expandable macro strings.

Installing the Registration Changer utility

Once you've downloaded the Registration Changer utility installation package, simply double-click the RegChange Installation.exe file. When you do, the installation program will prompt you to choose a folder in which to install the application. If the folder doesn't exist, the installation program will create it for you.

After you install the Registration Changer utility, you'll see the following two files in your chosen folder:

RegChange.hta
RegChange.ico

Of course, the RegChange.hta file is the HTA file that you'll use to launch the application. The RegChange.ico file contains the icon that the HTA uses for the control menu and the taskbar.

Using the Registration Changer utility

Using the Registration Changer utility is easy. After you install the utility, just double-click the HTA file to launch it. If you prefer, you can create a shortcut to the HTA file and place it on your Start menu. Once you launch the Registration Changer utility, you'll see the main screen shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The Registration Changer utility makes it easy to change registration information.
To begin, you need to select the operating system you're using. As you can see, the operating systems are grouped according to the location in the registry in which the RegisteredOwner and RegisteredOrganization keys are stored. If you fail to select an operating system and click either the Display or OK buttons, you'll see the error message shown in Figure C. When you click OK, you'll be returned to the main screen and can start again.

Figure C

If you fail to select an operating system before you proceed, you'll see an error message.

Be sure to select the correct operating system

It's imperative that you select the correct operating system for this operation to be successful. If the operating system is incorrect, the Registration Changer will apply the changes to the wrong location in the registry. When that happens, the registration information you wanted to change will remain unchanged, and unnecessary garbage will be added to the registry. If you happen to apply the changes to the wrong operating system, you can easily remove the unnecessary garbage by running the utility again and leaving the text boxes blank.

After you select an operating system, you may want to see the current registration information for the system. Just click the Display button. When you do, you'll see the current registration information displayed in the dialog box, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

The Registration Changer utility can display the current registration information before you make any changes.
If you want to change the registration information, just enter the text in the appropriate dialog boxes and click OK. When you do, you'll be prompted to confirm the operation before you proceed, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Before the Registration Changer makes any changes to the registry, it gives you a chance to abort the operation.

If you select No, you'll be returned to the main screen and can start over. If you click Yes, the Registration Changer will apply the changes to the registry. You can then instantly check the results by clicking the Display button. When you're done, just click Cancel or click Close, and the main Registration window will close.

Blanking out registration information

If you prefer to simply blank out the registration information rather than enter new names, just leave the text boxes blank and click OK.

That's all there is to it. The Registration Changer makes it easy to edit the registry without fear. As I stated earlier, be sure to back your system up before you go poking around in the registry. It's not something you should do lightly.

Stay on top of the latest XP tips and tricks with TechRepublic's Windows XP newsletter, delivered every Thursday. Automatically sign up today!

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

31 comments
pickledbutt
pickledbutt

Hey dumbass...Great way to show theives how to steal a computer and get away with it.

fLaKeYjAkE
fLaKeYjAkE

Nothing to download. The page from the link comes up empty. ie7 browser. Used firefox 3.5, got it! Worked like a charm on the pile of systems. Thanx Greg.

afgcons
afgcons

Changing the Owner & Organization Name is a much smaller task than changing the 1st or initial (Administator) User name under Documents and Settings. There are tons of reg.keys which need to be hacked. Has anyone found a tool which does a safe, verifiable "change all"?

bobbygot
bobbygot

when I click on the hta file it opens as a notepad text file, what's up?

paul
paul

What is best way for me to download Registry Changer? You didn't provide a link to the file in your article. Thank you.

joe
joe

broken links to download the file... nothing there

reisen55
reisen55

Many Windows XP systems change owners over time, particularly if donated to a local charity and such so changing appearance does not change the authenticity of the operating system at all. A small, good thing.

unimatrix1554
unimatrix1554

Never mind I found the download button. Silly Me.

unimatrix1554
unimatrix1554

Where is the download button to download your Registration Changer utility? I saw one download button but that was for the PDF file.

boods
boods

That was easy. Now I feel like the used laptop I bought is truly mine. Thanks!

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

There are a few other utilities that will do the same job out there. What any registry change doesn't do is update the ownership for applications already installed. Take for example. If the PC was registered to Josephine Blow but she already has Office 2003 installed. Then she gets divorced and goes back to her maiden name Josephine Public and changes the registry, it will still show Josephine Blow in Office 2003. Although could be risky, you could search for any instances of Josephine Blow in the registry and change them to Josephine Public.

LarryD4
LarryD4

LoL! I though we weren't allowed to tell people how to take ownership of an installed OS. Careful Thumbsup2 may come and tell you this is not allowed! Especially with a title like XP hacker! :D But other wise nice article, I use to do the reg changes manually.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you find yourself hacking the Windows XP registry file often? Would a little applet help for editing registry entries be helpful to you? What tools do you currently use for tweaking Windows XP?

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

The registered owner is different to the logged in account. If you change log ins, then you'll change the docs and settings folder names and the name at the top of the start menu. Two totally separate things. Safe way to do it...log on as admin and create a new account with the name that you want, log off and log back in with the new account details. You won't have to hack anything then.

caryyy
caryyy

Right-click, open with Internet Explorer.

caryyy
caryyy

You can search the registry in Vista (and Win7) for RegisteredOwner. Edit that value to whatever you want. You can also edit RegisteredOrganization as well. When you're done, export the values to a .reg file, then modify and merge any time you need to update a machine.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

But doesn't a copy of XP get registered to a person or an organisation? If you then change that info, wouldn't that invalidate the registration status? I'm not sure licences can be sold/lent to another party... will have a look at the EULA.

joybrz
joybrz

It was easy! Took all of 2 min! Thanx!!

rnejunk-techrepublic
rnejunk-techrepublic

I have done all the above editing the actual registry and wish I had this tool before that considering I had to do it on several machines. Great tool however and nice article What I'm still looking for is a reasonably simple way to change the original name at the top of the Start menu and in the Doc and Settings line... got anything for that?

C F USA
C F USA

Could definately be risky if the key was based on the Registrants name and checks each time the program was run. I am not sure how current keys are generated, but back in the days of batch files, door games, and BBS's it was not uncommon for for the key to be generated based on the user information. PS...does anyone here remember what a door game is?

caryyy
caryyy

I need an applet to modify this registry entry: [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer\DisallowRun] I want to be able to add executables to that list on the fly. Cary

afgcons
afgcons

moved, sorry (why is there no button or funtion to MOVE or DELETE a post?)

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

The doc and settings folders are based on WHO IS LOGGED IN at the time, not who the registered owner is! Log in with a different name and you will change the doc and settings folder name and the name at the top of the start menu.

caryyy
caryyy

In case you can't see the whole path... [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\ Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\ Policies\Explorer\DisallowRun]

Editor's Picks