Cargo-cult registry settings and the people who swear by them


Two customers (so far) wanted to know how to increase the duration of taskbar balloon notifications on Windows Vista. (By the way, I gave the answer some time ago.)

They claimed that on Windows XP, they were using the registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Current­Version\Explorer\Tray­Notify, setting the value Balloon­Tip to a REG_DWORD specifying the number of seconds the balloon should appear. They wanted to know if this still worked in Vista.

Heck, it didn't work even in Windows XP!

That undocumented registry key actually controls whether the Windows XP taskbar should show the "To see the hidden icons, click this button" tip. It has nothing to do with how long the balloon stays on the screen.

A quick Web search suggests that that particular setting has reached cult status, with everybody saying that the setting controls balloon duration, and nobody actually testing it. It's just a matter of faith.

Even the sometimes-suggested trick of putting the registry key name in MSDN so searches can find it and direct users to the correct method wouldn't have helped, because this was the wrong registry key to begin with.

(Remember, the answer is in the linked article.)

Comments (14)
  1. Sven2 says:

    I wonder what kind of tooltip people want to display for longer.

    Advertisement? If you already have access to tooltips, you can just display them more often. That's probably more efficient.

    Lengthy text that people need to copy by hand? (e.g.: A telephone number) – you would probably make it a link.

    I can't think of a legitimate use case for this.

  2. Yuri says:

    @Sven2

    The balloon tooltip in the notification area are actionable when you click on them (or should be). People see them and when they're about to click on them they disapear.

  3. Chris Crowther says:

    They stop disappearing as soon as you mouse over them though, so if you're about to click it you've also just stopped it disappearing.

  4. Yuri says:

    @Chris Crowther

    Maybe it's because the timing is just right to prevent clicking. I know it has happened often to me but I also remember clicking on that Clean Unused Icons balloon on the desktop too.

  5. Yuri says:

    Actually I think it's just the hit zone for the mouse over that isn't very precise because the balloon has an irregular shape.

  6. xpclient says:

    @Sven2, The kind that doesn't want the ugly style toast notifications to disappear when you are not around to read them. Since both ugly style and balloon style are controlled by the same setting.

  7. SimonRev says:

    @Chris — that may technically be true.  But I cannot count the number of times I have moved my mouse to interact with a tool tip and the instant the mouse enters the tip it disappears.  It really does sometimes feel like it has an WM_MOUSEMOVE that hides the tip as soon as it receives one.

  8. Henke37 says:

    @xpclient, The timer doesn't run when the system is idle. They will be there when the user gets back from the coffee break.

  9. Paul Coddington says:

    "A quick Web search suggests that that particular setting has reached cult status, with everybody saying that the setting controls balloon duration, and nobody actually testing it. It's just a matter of faith."

    There are an awful lot of sample code snippets out there that are republished again and again without ever being tested, especially in VB-land. There is no escaping knowing what you are doing: even a cut and paste coder needs to be able to understand what's being attempted and be able to debug it.

    And, I think the same can be said of traditional backup policies (Full, Incremental, Differential), because so many people have not yet twigged that you cannot possibly bare-metal restore the data in their original state with these methods. Knowing this allows you to tell the difference between someone who has only implemented data backups and someone who has actually tested that their backups can be recovered.

  10. MItaly says:

    We have a similar problem with the parameters in an application of ours. Two technicians swore that some parameter was there to control a certain timeout, saying they did tests and everything.

    We checked the source, and it turned out that yes, that parameter *was* used – to initialize a static variable never referenced in any other place.

  11. xpclient says:

    @Henke37, On my Windows 8.x, that seems to be true only of balloon notifications. The toast notifications show up and disappear even if the PC is idle/user is away from keyboard. Not sure if its By Design or a bug.

    [If by "toast notifications" you mean the things that appear next to the clock, then the answer is "Those are provided by the application, not Windows. If you don't like their behavior, complain to the application vendor." Windows provides tooltips and balloons. -Raymond]
  12. ender says:

    @Henke37

    > The timer doesn't run when the system is idle. They will be there when the user gets back from the coffee break.

    My problem with this is that I get back to my computer, move the mouse, and see the balloon fade out immediately. Happens regularly, and the balloon never waits a few seconds in this case.

  13. Kai Schätzl says:

    @ everyone

    Tooltips do not stay when you hover over them or over the item triggering them. Indeed, they go away the moment you leave the item. But they don't stay as long as you hover over the item. That's why there is a duration. I think the default is five seconds.

    @ Sven2.

    First, don't assume they want to display it *longer*. The misguided tip (change TrayNotify) suggests, these people may actually want to make it display *shorter*. E.g. most of these balloon tips are just plain annoying.

    Second, a typical case why people would want to increase duration of balloon tips in their "incarnation" as tooltips is IE. Many links to forum articles (or to news articles) use alt or title attributes to add a short summary or preview when hovering over the link. IE uses the Windows-native tooltip to display these. As it happens, five seconds may not be long enough to read that summary … and you may find that hovering over it again may not retrigger the tip. You may have to display another tooltip before you can redisplay the one you really want.

  14. xpclient says:

    "If by toast notifications you mean the things that appear next to the clock, then the answer is Those are provided by the application, not Windows. If you don't like their behavior, complain to the application vendor. Windows provides tooltips and balloons".

    I mean the toast notifications on the top right in Windows 8. (blogs.msdn.com/…/6813.image_5F00_5949E975.png)

    [Those notifications were intended to be for situations where, if you aren't there to see it, there's no point seeing it late. Like it really matters that somebody tried to Skype you 3 hours ago. -Raymond]

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