Welcome!

Related Topics: Microsoft Cloud, Java IoT, Linux Containers, Containers Expo Blog, Silverlight, @CloudExpo

Microsoft Cloud: Blog Post

Working with the Windows 8.1 Interface

Windows 8.1 for Business: Remember Our Good Friend Group Policy

imageHopefully you never forgot Group Policy!

Whenever the topic of working with desktops in business is brought up, IT Pro’s always want to manage and maintain those desktops.  For me the first thing that always come to mind is Group Policy and hopefully does for you as well.  Group Policy is one of the primary tools you can quickly leverage to help control your IT infrastructure.    What better way to manage our desktops than with a free tool that is built into Active Directory, and has been there since the Windows NT days.

In today’s post I am going to take a look at some of the new features in Windows 8.1 Group Policy as well as some of the new settings you will want to learn to leverage to help manage your desktops.  Oh, by the way you can still change the user's desktop background to blue, with blue labels on the shortcuts, or put the logoff command in the log in script, if you are so inclined not that I have ever done that.

Now if you are not familiar with Group Policy I would highly recommend you start here:  Group Policy for Beginners The article will help you get familiar with how Group Policy works and how it is configured.

New Settings in Windows 8.1

imageWindows 8.1 has a lot of new Group Policy settings from controlling the Start Screen to controlling the caching mode of Group Policy and everything in between.  So where can you go to learn about all the settings?  The best place to start is the Group Policy Settings reference.  This is a spreadsheet you can download and has all the group policy settings documented for you to review. It also provides some nice filtering tools.  Specifically you can filter for polices that are new to Windows 8.1, by filtering the last column New in 8.1 to True. (Thanks Keith for the tip)  You can download the settings reference file here:

Group Policy Settings Reference for Windows and Windows Server

The rest of this article will focus on some useful new settings including policy caching and settings to help you control the Start Screen.

Group Policy Caching

New in Windows Server 2012 R2  group policy caching helps speed up your group policy processing when you are in synchronous mode processing.  Before I go any further, in Group Policy there are two modes of how policies are processed by the client, synchronous and asynchronous.  This mode impacts how fast policy is processed and ultimately when a user sees the login screen.

  • Synchronous: at a high level, this processing mode will make sure Group Policy is processed in order and the user will not be presented with the login screen until all the policies have been processed.
  • Asynchronous: this processing mode is going to try to get to the login in screen as fast as it can during system start up.  Potentially this means you may be able to login while Group Policy is still processing in the background.  You may have heard of this setting before as it was known as Fast Logon, which was introduced in Windows XP.

With Policy caching when your system gets the latest version of a policy from the imagedomain controller, it writes that policy to a local store. Then if Group Policy is running in synchronous mode the next time the computer reboots, it reads the most recently downloaded version of the policy from the local store, instead of downloading it from the network. This is especially important if you have a latent connection to the domain controller, for example, with DirectAccess or for computers that are off premises. To configure this you will need to modify the Configure Group Policy Caching policy, and that is found in this location: Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\

System\Group Policy\

To take a more in detailed look at Group Policy Caching take a look here: Understanding Group Policy Caching in Windows 8.1

Managing the Start Screen

One of the new improvements to Windows 8.1 group policy is the ability to manage the Start Screen.  In previous operating systems you also had many ways to control the start menu, desktop layout, and many other settings to help manage your users experience when they logged on.   There are two areas we will take a look at in this section. First we will take a look at customizing the start screen layout.  Secondly you will see how you can start the users on the desktop instead of the Start Screen.

imageCustomizing the Start Screen begins with building a desktop with the Start Screen layout that meets your corporate requirements.  Once that is done then you get to use our friend PowerShell and the Export-StartLayout cmdlet to export your Start Screen layout into an .xml or .bin file.  To learn more about the cmdlet take a look here: Export-StartLayout.  The PowerShell command would look something like this, if you wanted to save an .xml file to the d: drive.

Export-StartLayout -Path "d:\startlayout.xml" -As XML

Once you have the file created, you will want to place the file in a shared folder on one of servers that your desktops can access, for example you could place the files on share in your DC.  Then you will need to configure the Start Screen Layout policy located here: Administrative Templates\Start Menu and Taskbar in either User Configuration or Computer Configuration.  This then will allow you to control the layout of the desktops for the users you apply the policy to.  For a deeper look and how to set this up as well as configuring this locally take a look here:

Customize Windows 8.1 Start Screens by Using Group Policy

Lastly, let’s take a look at how to start your users on the desktop.  As I mentioned in my article on the Start imageScreen, Windows 8.1 for Business- Oh Start menu, how do I miss thee…or do I , my favorite app is the desktop when I am working.  My teammate Jennelle showed you how to start on the desktop by hand in her article, Beloved Desktop, Where Art Thou.  Now let’s take a look at how easy this is to do with Group Policy.

The policy you will want to set is the Go to the desktop instead of Start when signing in or when all the apps on a screen are closed This policy will start your users right on the desktop when the login.  You can find this policy here:  User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Start Menu and Taskbar .

This article took a look at  just a couple of the new policies settings for Windows 8.1 desktop.  However, do not forgot the 1000’s of other policy settings at your fingertips or that you can also use Group Policy to manage your servers as well.

I hope you enjoyed a look at Group Policy and Windows 8.1 and we hope you are enjoying the series, and if you missed any of the Windows 8.1 for business series you can find them here: http://aka.ms/Win814Biz

More Stories By Matt Hester

Matt Hester is a Senior Information Technology Professional Evangelist for Microsoft. Matt has been involved in the IT Pro community for over 20 years. Matt is a skilled and experienced evangelist presenting to audiences nationally and internationally. Prior to joining Microsoft Matt was a highly successful Microsoft Certified Trainer for over 8 years. After joining Microsoft, Matt has continued to be heavily involved in IT Pro community as an IT Pro Evangelist. In his role at Microsoft Matt has presented to audiences in excess of 5000 and as small as 10. Matt has written 4 articles for TechNet magazine. In addition Matt has published 3 books:

You can contact Matt off his blog at http://aka.ms/matthester

Latest Stories
19th Cloud Expo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterpri...
Kubernetes, Docker and containers are changing the world, and how companies are deploying their software and running their infrastructure. With the shift in how applications are built and deployed, new challenges must be solved. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at19th Cloud Expo, Sebastian Scheele, co-founder of Loodse, will discuss the implications of containerized applications/infrastructures and their impact on the enterprise. In a real world example based on Kubernetes, he will show how to ...
Personalization has long been the holy grail of marketing. Simply stated, communicate the most relevant offer to the right person and you will increase sales. To achieve this, you must understand the individual. Consequently, digital marketers developed many ways to gather and leverage customer information to deliver targeted experiences. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lou Casal, Founder and Principal Consultant at Practicala, discussed how the Internet of Things (IoT) has accelerated our abil...
With so much going on in this space you could be forgiven for thinking you were always working with yesterday’s technologies. So much change, so quickly. What do you do if you have to build a solution from the ground up that is expected to live in the field for at least 5-10 years? This is the challenge we faced when we looked to refresh our existing 10-year-old custom hardware stack to measure the fullness of trash cans and compactors.
Extreme Computing is the ability to leverage highly performant infrastructure and software to accelerate Big Data, machine learning, HPC, and Enterprise applications. High IOPS Storage, low-latency networks, in-memory databases, GPUs and other parallel accelerators are being used to achieve faster results and help businesses make better decisions. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at NVIDIA, focused on some of the unique ways extreme computing is...
The emerging Internet of Everything creates tremendous new opportunities for customer engagement and business model innovation. However, enterprises must overcome a number of critical challenges to bring these new solutions to market. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Martin, CTO/CIO at nfrastructure, outlined these key challenges and recommended approaches for overcoming them to achieve speed and agility in the design, development and implementation of Internet of Everything solutions wi...
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long dev...
Cloud computing is being adopted in one form or another by 94% of enterprises today. Tens of billions of new devices are being connected to The Internet of Things. And Big Data is driving this bus. An exponential increase is expected in the amount of information being processed, managed, analyzed, and acted upon by enterprise IT. This amazing is not part of some distant future - it is happening today. One report shows a 650% increase in enterprise data by 2020. Other estimates are even higher....
I wanted to gather all of my Internet of Things (IOT) blogs into a single blog (that I could later use with my University of San Francisco (USF) Big Data “MBA” course). However as I started to pull these blogs together, I realized that my IOT discussion lacked a vision; it lacked an end point towards which an organization could drive their IOT envisioning, proof of value, app dev, data engineering and data science efforts. And I think that the IOT end point is really quite simple…
Aspose.Total for .NET is the most complete package of all file format APIs for .NET as offered by Aspose. It empowers developers to create, edit, render, print and convert between a wide range of popular document formats within any .NET, C#, ASP.NET and VB.NET applications. Aspose compiles all .NET APIs on a daily basis to ensure that it contains the most up to date versions of each of Aspose .NET APIs. If a new .NET API or a new version of existing APIs is released during the subscription peri...
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
Identity is in everything and customers are looking to their providers to ensure the security of their identities, transactions and data. With the increased reliance on cloud-based services, service providers must build security and trust into their offerings, adding value to customers and improving the user experience. Making identity, security and privacy easy for customers provides a unique advantage over the competition.
Qosmos has announced new milestones in the detection of encrypted traffic and in protocol signature coverage. Qosmos latest software can accurately classify traffic encrypted with SSL/TLS (e.g., Google, Facebook, WhatsApp), P2P traffic (e.g., BitTorrent, MuTorrent, Vuze), and Skype, while preserving the privacy of communication content. These new classification techniques mean that traffic optimization, policy enforcement, and user experience are largely unaffected by encryption. In respect wit...
Using new techniques of information modeling, indexing, and processing, new cloud-based systems can support cloud-based workloads previously not possible for high-throughput insurance, banking, and case-based applications. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, John Newton, CTO, Founder and Chairman of Alfresco, described how to scale cloud-based content management repositories to store, manage, and retrieve billions of documents and related information with fast and linear scalability. He addres...
Is the ongoing quest for agility in the data center forcing you to evaluate how to be a part of infrastructure automation efforts? As organizations evolve toward bimodal IT operations, they are embracing new service delivery models and leveraging virtualization to increase infrastructure agility. Therefore, the network must evolve in parallel to become equally agile. Read this essential piece of Gartner research for recommendations on achieving greater agility.