Prior to the Windows Registry, .INI files stored each program's settings as a text file, often located in a shared location that did not provide user-specific settings in a multi-user scenario. By contrast, the Windows Registry stores all application settings in one logical repository (but a number of discrete files) and in a standardized form. According to Microsoft, this offers several advantages over .INI files.[2][3] Since file parsing is done much more efficiently with a binary format, it may be read from or written to more quickly than an INI file. Furthermore, strongly typed data can be stored in the registry, as opposed to the text information stored in .INI files. This is a benefit when editing keys manually using RegEdit.exe, the built-in Windows Registry Editor. Because user-based registry settings are loaded from a user-specific path rather than from a read-only system location, the registry allows multiple users to share the same machine, and also allows programs to work for less privileged users. Backup and restoration is also simplified as the registry can be accessed over a network connection for remote management/support, including from scripts, using the standard set of APIs, as long as the Remote Registry service is running and firewall rules permit this.

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In Windows, use of the registry for storing program data is a matter of developer's discretion. Microsoft provides programming interfaces for storing data in XML files (via MSXML) or database files (via SQL Server Compact) which developers can use instead. Developers are also free to use non-Microsoft alternatives or develop their own proprietary data stores.

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