Disabling Auto-Search in Windows 7

Windows 7 has a “convenience” feature that drives me nuts. When you are in Windows Explorer and you type an invalid directory into the address bar, rather than telling you that the entry is not valid, it pops open your default Internet browser and automatically conducts a search. This is annoying at best and a privacy risk at worst. For me, every time I mistype a directory name, I get popped out to Yahoo.

Windows doesn’t provide an easy way to disable this feature. You’re actually supposed to be able to turn it of in Internet Explorer’s settings for managing Search Providers and add-ons (intuitive, I know) but it doesn’t work.

So, how do we fix it? Here’s how:

  1. Open the Registry Editor. Insert standard disclaimer about how you should be very careful with the registry editor and can destroy your computer and set fire to your houseplants if you so much as mistype a single character blah blah blah. Seriously, folks. You have a better chance of accidentally formatting your hard drive or installing some crappy browser toolbar which can end up doing more damage than “accidentally” messing up the Windows registry. Stay away from the delete key (and its confirmation dialogs) and you’ll be just fine.
  2. Navigate to HKEY_USERS\{ssid}\Software\DeviceVM\Browser Configuration Utility\IE. If you’re feeling like you want to play it safe, right-click on the folder labeled “IE” and click on “Export”. This will save a backup of the registry entry.
  3. Delete the keys for AddressSearchBarName and AddressSearchBarURL. Yeah, I said stay away from the delete key. Just put on your big boy pants and trust yourself not to do anything destructive.
  4. Close the registry editor and marvel at how easy it was to regain some small sliver of your personal privacy.