Judging by the response to my latest Microsoft Challenge, I fully expect to switch on The Simpsons this week and see Bart filling a blackboard with “I will not hack the registry.” I asked for alternatives to the plain-vanilla registry editors found in Windows 2000, and I got some great suggestions. But I also got a couple of scoldings from TechRepublic members.

Taken to task
This tsk-tsk came from a member with the mysterious moniker -Q: “Hmmm …Tools to make it easier to screw up a registry? Sounds dangerous when in the wrong or semi-qualified hands. Very dangerous .… Bad idea.”

And then there was this slap from pschmied: “You wrote, ‘For some reason, Microsoft ships two [registry editors] with Windows 2000 .…’ If you don’t know why there are two different standard bundled tools, you probably shouldn’t be messing directly with the registry.” Well, I know the difference between those tools—Regedt32 lets you set security attributes, while the Windows 9X-style Regedit has search and replace capabilities. But the only reason I can think of for Microsoft to ship both tools is that they haven’t assigned a development team to combine both functions (and more) in a single utility, as they should have done in about, oh, 1997.

I’ll concede the point that randomly spelunking in the registry is a Very Bad Idea. But even the most hard-line IT pro has to admit that sometimes editing the registry is the only way to enable a feature or disable a flaw. And a few TechRepublic members had excellent suggestions for alternatives.

Member recommendations
Of all the shareware utilities suggested, the best and most popular was Registry Tool. TechRepublic member bag explains its chief advantage: “The difference between this and any other [registry utility] is that it is not invasive. It imports the registry from the machine you are trying to modify, and then the modifications are made to the copy instead of the original. You can also undo and search and replace. Then you can reimport part or complete registry to the machine.” The Personal version is $40; a Professional version, which adds the capability to connect to remote registries via TCP/IP connection, is $145 per license.

Of course, you don’t have to pay extra for standalone registry-editing utilities. If you own a copy of the Windows 2000 Resource Kit, you already have access to more than 300 tools, including several that are tailor-made for network administrators. Unfortunately, the best of the bunch, Reg.exe, appears to have been dropped during the changeover from Windows NT to Windows 2000. As mwb explains, “I use three utilities from the NT resource kit: Reg.exe, Compreg.exe, and Regfind.exe. Reg.exe can be used to query, add, update, copy (from PC to PC!), save, and restore registry keys and values. You can also load and unload hives. Compreg.exe can compare registry values for use in scripting. Regfind.exe can scan and replace items in the registry. Each of these command-line programs has numerous options that Regedit and Regedt32 do not have. I use these all the time.”

But my favorite response came from wim, who wrote: “Let me give you an answer different from what you expect …. When you’re a sysadmin, you’re mostly interested in the settings of a lot of machines instead of just one. So my favorite tool would be: SCRIPTING! Depending on the job, you can use a variety of tools. My two favorites here are Perl (ActiveState and others) for all jobs where you need to gather bits of information, including registry, from machines in your network and optionally do specific tasks depending on the information gathered. KiXtart is useful for all things logon-script related. I’ve seen whole software distribution mechanisms based on just KiXtart and some clever scripting. To a lesser extent, I use VBScript to accomplish these things, but scripts there tend to become so large that I prefer Perl.”

A hearty thanks (and 2,000 TechPoints) to the three TechRepublic members whose recommendations appear in this week’s column.

Here’s Ed’s new Challenge
I’m looking for explanations and advice on how to configure Windows 2000 Professional so that users can install and use USB hardware correctly. On my small network, users are getting an error message every time they connect a device that’s already been installed. The only way to make the device work is to log on with administrative rights. Can you help figure out the problem? If you think you’ve got the answers, click here to tackle this week’s Microsoft Challenge.