Use new Windows 8 Group Policy settings to control the Windows 8.1 UI

Windows 8.1 administration includes new Windows 8 Group Policy settings. See how Windows 8.1 settings can affect the Start menu and Control Panel.

Windows 8.1 includes a number of new Group Policy settings that can affect how users work with their desktops and how those desktops connect to other services. The new administrative templates address important issues that Windows 8 didn't previously cover, such as when login scripts run, how users interface with SkyDrive, whether Windows search functionality can include the Web, and what type of controls users have over the Start screen. This is the first of two articles providing an overview of the Windows 8 Group Policy settings most likely to affect enterprise desktops.

Configuration and personalization via the Control Panel

Windows 8.1 adds four administrative policies to the Personalization template in the Computer Configuration group. The policies affect a user's ability to modify desktop settings.

Two of the settings are specific to the lock screen, which is the screen shown when the computer is locked, rebooted or wakes from a sleep state. The Prevent enabling lock screen camera policy disables the camera and slideshow settings associated with the lock screen. The Prevent enabling lock screen slide show prevents users from invoking the camera or starting a slideshow when the lock screen is active.

The next two policies affect the desktop appearance. The Force a specific background and accent color policy defines the colors (in hex as RGB) that must be used for the background and accents. The Force a specific Start background policy sets the background that must be used for the Start screen. Users cannot change these settings if the policies are enabled.

Computer and user settings for the Start menu and Taskbar

Windows 8.1 adds eight new policies to the Start menu and Taskbar template in the User group. Only two of those also appear in the Computer group. The first is Pin Apps to Start when installed. When this policy is enabled, Windows pins newly installed apps to the Start screen by default. However, the AppIDs for those apps must be listed within the policy.

The second policy to be added to both the Computer and User groups is Start screen layout, which specifies the Start screen that the desktop uses. When configuring this policy, you must provide the fill path to an XML file that defines the layout. To generate that file, use the PowerShell Export-StartLayout cmdlet to capture a Start screen layout that you've manually configured to serve as your template.

Three other policies added to the User group should be fairly self-explanatory: List desktop apps first in the Apps view, Search just apps from the Apps view andShow the Apps view automatically when the user goes to Start. The Apps view (or Apps screen) lists the bulk of desktop and Windows Store apps installed on the computer. Users access the Apps view by clicking the down arrow near the bottom of the Start screen.

If you want to prevent users from removing apps from the Start screen, enable the policy Prevent users from uninstalling applications from Start. If you want the user's screen to default to the desktop instead of the Start screen, enable the policy Go to the desktop instead of Start when signing in or when all the apps on a screen are closed. Finally, you can let users working with multiple displays jump to the Start screen on the current display by pressing the Windows logo key. The policy that supports this functionality is Show Start on the display the user is using when they press the Windows logo key.

User notifications in Start menu and Taskbar

The Notifications template in the User group has also received four new policies, all of which are related to Quiet Hours, a new function in Windows 8.1 that lets users specify times they should not be interrupted by app notifications, such as calendar events or new messages.

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The policies Set the time Quiet Hours begins each day and Set the time Quiet Hours ends each day let you specify when Quiet Hours should be enabled on the desktop. In addition, you can use the Turn off calls during Quiet Hours policy to prevent voice and video calls from coming through during Quiet Hours, and you can use the Turn off Quiet Hours policy to disable the Quiet Hours functionality.

Windows 8 Group Policy for system, computer configuration

Windows 8.1 adds two new policies to the Group Policy template in the Computer group. The first is Configure Group Policy Caching, which lets you control how policies are cached. In Windows 8.1, Group Policy caches setting information by default. When Group Policy runs in synchronous foreground mode, it reads data from the cache.

You can use the Configure Group Policy Caching policy to set the slow link and timeout values, or you can disable the policy in order to turn off Group Policy caching. (See the policy description in the Group Policy editor for more information about how caching works.)

The second new policy in the Windows 8 Group Policy template is Configure Login Script Delay. By default, Windows 8.1 waits five minutes before running logon scripts to reduce contention among the scripts and other start-up tasks. But that means tasks carried out through the scripts, such as mapping drives or changing registry settings, are delayed.

However, you can use this policy to configure how long the computer waits before running the scripts. If you disable the Group Policy, scripts will run immediately after logon.

In my next Windows 8 configuration tip, we'll look at the Edge user interface, search, SkyDrive and more.

Dig Deeper on Windows 8 and 8.1