Edit Environment Variables in the Registry

I’m annoyed with the state of environment variables, more specifically the PATH variable. It used to be not entirely intuitive but relatively easy to edit. You’d right-click My Computer > Properties > Advanced > Environment Variables and be home free.

Recently, I needed to add a value to my PATH variable. In Windows 8.1, finding the advanced system properties is a little different, but I made it there without too much trouble. So, I selected the PATH variable, clicked the edit button, and was presented with a dialog box. It looked good, but I couldn’t type anything!

I believe I wasn’t able to type because my existing value exceeded the the character limit of 1024. I’m sure this limit has been there all along, but it was super annoying to deal with. I was able to get around the problem by using PowerShell. This worked fine for adding a new path to the environment variable, but I don’t think it would be so great for editing to remove an unneeded path or correct a mistake. But whatever, it worked, and I thought I was in the clear until today when I found that my added path had inexplicably been removed! Gah!

I headed back to Google for a better solution, and I think I found a winner. You can edit the values in the registry, which gives me everything I’m looking for. I can copy the entire existing value into a text editor, make whatever changes, and then copy it back into the registry and save. Oh, and then you have to reboot. (Ugh.) This all seems WAY harder than it should be, but it does work, and I found it to be less annoying than the alternatives I could find.

Here are the registry keys:

  • User – [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Environment]
  • System – [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Environment]


Life-Changing Shortcuts: Windows Key + Arrow

Multiple screens are a must-have these days. I have just two, and I’m constantly throwing windows back and forth. Windows 7 introduced some nice docking features that make this easy and efficient. I can drag a maximized window by the title bar, and it will un-maximize. If I then “push” it to the top of my other screen, it will re-maximize.

Windows 7 also lets you drag windows to the sides of your screen to half-maximize it; the window will use the entire vertical space but only half of the horizontal space, as if it were docked to the side of the screen to which it was dragged. Great. I love it.

But there’s a problem. There are no edges between my screens. Ugh… I guess I’ll just resize the window to make it half-screen sized, and then manually position it along the crack like a caveman. I mean, there’s no better way to do this, right?

That’s what I might’ve said if this were 2012. I know some things now that I didn’t know then. That’s right, I’m talking about the Windows key + arrow shortcut. Use this amazing shortcut to reposition windows by jumping through the different docking options. Here’s the summary:

Shortcut Description
Windows + ↑ Maximize a normal or left/right-docked window
Windows + ← Left-dock a window; cycle through side-dock positions
Windows + → Right-dock a window; cycle through side-dock positions
Windows + ↓ Un-maximize or un-dock a window; minimize a normal window

Toggling maximize and minimize are no big deal, and neither are dock-left and dock-right. What is useful, however, is that dock-left and dock-right respect the boundary between displays. OMG–life changed! This is easily my favorite new shortcut of 2013. So, you probably won’t use this shortcut to maximize or minimize windows, but remember it for the next time you’re trying to look at four things all at the same time. I bet you’ll fall in love.

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