The MS-Windows registry has been around since version 3.1, and has probably been a constant in the Windows NT world. It is designed to thrive in multi-user environments because of its system of hives, which guarantee that each user can use the same application with individualized settings. This is in contrast to having each application save its settings in an INI file, which is only ideal for one user. Backing up a registry out of a single known folder is better than backing up many disparate INI files scattered all over your hard drive.
But I have many pet peeves about the registry, all extending from the idea that its biggest strengths are also its biggest weakeness. I am usually the sole user of my computers and laptops, so this idea of multi-user environments is lost on me, and probably most people outside of sysadmins in large organizations. The thought of having centrally-located hives for backups appeals to me, though, but I usually end up taking my chances on not backing it up. I only seldom edit the registry by hand, and there are registry cleaners such as ccleaner that do the job with greater efficiency. I currently have five computers at home, and after three years, I haven’t had a corrupt registry yet. But I do remember having to back up INI files back in the day. Indeed, they have a point. The fact that I haven’t backed up the registry is slothful on my part, but it would have had the same effect, albeit with greater efficiency.
But with this single location for a fixed number of registry files comes the cost of having to load it in memory. With INI files, the only configs that load in memory pertain only to the program(s) you are running. With the registry, the whole bloody hive loads into RAM at boot time. All configs for all applications all at once. This leads to a lot of people complaining of slow responses due to bloated registries. It is not seen as that big a problem, since nowadays just about everybody uses more than 1 gig of RAM on their PCs and laptops. Ideally, that should speed up the startup of programs.
If the Windows installation became corrupted, the answer was as it is now, to re-install. When there were INI files, it wasn’t necessary to reinstall programs since their configurations were normally intact. All you needed was to reinstall windows and everything was normal. With the reigistry, unless you had a backup (and even then), you needed to reinstall all of your programs as well, since they are tied to a single, central registry. If the INI files were not corrupt (the only problem residing under C:\WINDOWS), it wasn’t necessary to restore INIs from backup.
Those are mostly my gripes about the registry, but there is one more, regarding the fact that the registry poses a big fat, centralized target for viruses and malicious software.