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
In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Robert Doyle, lead architect at eCube Systems, will examine the issues and need for an agile infrastructure and show the advantages of capturing developer knowledge in an exportable file for migration into production. He will introduce the use of NXTmonitor, a next-generation DevOps tool that captures application environments, dependencies and start/stop procedures in a portable configuration file with an easy-to-use GUI. In addition to captur...
Wooed by the promise of faster innovation, lower TCO, and greater agility, businesses of every shape and size have embraced the cloud at every layer of the IT stack – from apps to file sharing to infrastructure. The typical organization currently uses more than a dozen sanctioned cloud apps and will shift more than half of all workloads to the cloud by 2018. Such cloud investments have delivered measurable benefits. But they’ve also resulted in some unintended side-effects: complexity and risk. ...
There are 66 million network cameras capturing terabytes of data. How did factories in Japan improve physical security at the facilities and improve employee productivity? Edge Computing reduces possible kilobytes of data collected per second to only a few kilobytes of data transmitted to the public cloud every day. Data is aggregated and analyzed close to sensors so only intelligent results need to be transmitted to the cloud. Non-essential data is recycled to optimize storage.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Conference Guru has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. A valuable conference experience generates new contacts, sales leads, potential strategic partners and potential investors; helps gather competitive intelligence and even provides inspiration for new products and services. Conference Guru works with conference organizers to pass great dea...
The buzz continues for cloud, data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) and their collective impact across all industries. But a new conversation is emerging - how do companies use industry disruption and technology enablers to lead in markets undergoing change, uncertainty and ambiguity? Organizations of all sizes need to evolve and transform, often under massive pressure, as industry lines blur and merge and traditional business models are assaulted and turned upside down. In this new da...
Whether they’re located in a public, private, or hybrid cloud environment, cloud technologies are constantly evolving. While the innovation is exciting, the end mission of delivering business value and rapidly producing incremental product features is paramount. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Kiran Chitturi, CTO Architect at Sungard AS, discussed DevOps culture, its evolution of frameworks and technologies, and how it is achieving maturity. He also covered various styles and...
“We're a global managed hosting provider. Our core customer set is a U.S.-based customer that is looking to go global,” explained Adam Rogers, Managing Director at ANEXIA, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
In recent years, containers have taken the world by storm. Companies of all sizes and industries have realized the massive benefits of containers, such as unprecedented mobility, higher hardware utilization, and increased flexibility and agility; however, many containers today are non-persistent. Containers without persistence miss out on many benefits, and in many cases simply pass the responsibility of persistence onto other infrastructure, adding additional complexity.
Some people worry that OpenStack is more flash then substance; however, for many customers this could not be farther from the truth. No other technology equalizes the playing field between vendors while giving your internal teams better access than ever to infrastructure when they need it. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Brown, a Solutions Marketing Manager at Nutanix, will talk through some real-world OpenStack deployments and look into the ways this can benefit customers of all sizes....
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm. In his general session at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Brown, a Solutions Marketing Manager at Nutanix, will explore...
The Software Defined Data Center (SDDC), which enables organizations to seamlessly run in a hybrid cloud model (public + private cloud), is here to stay. IDC estimates that the software-defined networking market will be valued at $3.7 billion by 2016. Security is a key component and benefit of the SDDC, and offers an opportunity to build security 'from the ground up' and weave it into the environment from day one. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Reuven Harrison, CTO and Co-Founder of Tufin, ...
All clouds are not equal. To succeed in a DevOps context, organizations should plan to develop/deploy apps across a choice of on-premise and public clouds simultaneously depending on the business needs. This is where the concept of the Lean Cloud comes in - resting on the idea that you often need to relocate your app modules over their life cycles for both innovation and operational efficiency in the cloud. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at19th Cloud Expo, Valentin (Val) Bercovici, CTO of Soli...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, discussed the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Both SaaS vendors and SaaS buyers are going “all-in” to hyperscale IaaS platforms such as AWS, which is disrupting the SaaS value proposition. Why should the enterprise SaaS consumer pay for the SaaS service if their data is resident in adjacent AWS S3 buckets? If both SaaS sellers and buyers are using the same cloud tools, automation and pay-per-transaction model offered by IaaS platforms, then why not host the “shrink-wrapped” software in the customers’ cloud? Further, serverless computing, cl...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, director/senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.