What Is Windows Group Policy?
Group Policy provides a centralized way to configure and enforce all kinds of settings across computers on an Active Directory network. These settings are maintained by a domain controller and individual computers can’t override them.
Think of this like the Control Panel, except much more powerful. With Group Policy, you can restrict access to parts of the system, force a certain home page for all users, and even run certain scripts whenever a computer starts up or shuts down.
Behind the scenes, most of the options in the Group Policy Editor simply make tweaks to the Windows Registry. The Group Policy Editor provides a much friendlier interface for managing these options without having to manually scour the Registry, though.
Accessing the Group Policy Editor
Accessing the Group Policy Editor is easier than you think, especially on Windows 10. As with most utilities in Windows, there are multiple ways to access it.
Here’s one reliable method:
- Open the Start Menu.
- Search for group policy.
- Launch the Edit group policy entry that comes up.
For another way, press Win + R to open the Run dialog box. There, enter gpedit.msc to launch the Group Policy Editor.
While we mentioned that Group Policy is not normally available on Home editions of Windows, there is a workaround you can try. It involves some basic system tweaks and the installation of a third-party Group Policy Editor.
Applying Group Policy Updates
For some Group Policy settings, you’ll have to reboot your computer before they take effect. Otherwise, once you’re done making changes, launch an elevated Command Prompt and run the following command:
This forces any updates you made to Group Policy to take effect immediately.
Cool Things to Do With Group Policy
The Group Policy Editor allows you to change hundreds of different options, preferences, and settings, so it’s impossible to cover everything here.
Now, we’ll look at some recommended Group Policy settings to get you started.
1. Restrict Access to Control Panel and Settings
Control Panel restrictions are vital for business networks and school environments. However, they can also be useful at home for computers shared between multiple users. If you want to prevent children from changing settings, this is a good step to take.
To completely block the Control Panel altogether, enable this object:
User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel > Prohibit access to Control Panel and PC Settings
If you want to instead provide access to only certain parts of the Control Panel, you can set that up using one of the two following items:
User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel > Hide specified Control Panel items
User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel > Show only specified Control Panel Item
Enable them and you’ll be able to indicate which Control Panel Applets you want to show or hide. Use Microsoft’s Canonical Names of Control Panel Items to list them.
2. Block the Command Prompt
Despite how useful the Command Prompt can be, it can become a nuisance in the wrong hands. Allowing users to run undesirable commands and circumventing other restrictions you might have in place isn’t a good idea. As such, you can disable it.
To disable the Command Prompt, browse to this value:
User Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Prevent access to the command prompt
Note that enabling this restriction means that cmd.exe can’t run at all. Thus, it also prevents the execution of batch files in CMD or BAT formats.
3. Prevent Software Installations
You have many ways to block users from installing new software. Doing so can help reduce the amount of maintenance you need to do when people carelessly install junk. It also reduces the chances of malware getting on your system.
To prevent software installations using Group Policy, visit:
Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Installer > Turn off Windows Installer
Note that this only blocks the Windows installer, so people can still install apps using the Windows Store.
4. Disable Forced Restarts
While you can enable some options to postpone it, Windows 10 will eventually restart your computer on its own if you have updates pending. You can take back control by enabling a Group Policy item. Once you do, Windows will only apply pending updates when you restart on your own.
You’ll find it here:
Computer Configuration > Administrator Templates > Windows Components > Windows Update > No auto-restart with logged on users for scheduled automatic update installations
5. Disable Automatic Driver Updates
Did you know that Windows 10 also updates device drivers without your explicit permission? In many cases, this is useful, as it aims to keep your system as up-to-date as possible.
But what if you’re running a custom driver? Or perhaps the latest driver for a certain hardware component has a bug that causes your system to crash. These are times when automatic driver updates are more harmful than helpful.