Welcome!

Microsoft Cloud Authors: Nick Basinger, Kevin Benedict, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Lori MacVittie

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

IoT & Smart Cities Stories
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that Big Data Federation to Exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO, colocated with DevOpsSUMMIT and DXWorldEXPO, November 12-13, 2018 in New York City. Big Data Federation, Inc. develops and applies artificial intelligence to predict financial and economic events that matter. The company uncovers patterns and precise drivers of performance and outcomes with the aid of machine-learning algorithms, big data, and fundamental analysis. Their products are deployed...
Dynatrace is an application performance management software company with products for the information technology departments and digital business owners of medium and large businesses. Building the Future of Monitoring with Artificial Intelligence. 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 busine...
The challenges of aggregating data from consumer-oriented devices, such as wearable technologies and smart thermostats, are fairly well-understood. However, there are a new set of challenges for IoT devices that generate megabytes or gigabytes of data per second. Certainly, the infrastructure will have to change, as those volumes of data will likely overwhelm the available bandwidth for aggregating the data into a central repository. Ochandarena discusses a whole new way to think about your next...
CloudEXPO | DevOpsSUMMIT | DXWorldEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.
All in Mobile is a place where we continually maximize their impact by fostering understanding, empathy, insights, creativity and joy. They believe that a truly useful and desirable mobile app doesn't need the brightest idea or the most advanced technology. A great product begins with understanding people. It's easy to think that customers will love your app, but can you justify it? They make sure your final app is something that users truly want and need. The only way to do this is by ...
Digital Transformation and Disruption, Amazon Style - What You Can Learn. Chris Kocher is a co-founder of Grey Heron, a management and strategic marketing consulting firm. He has 25+ years in both strategic and hands-on operating experience helping executives and investors build revenues and shareholder value. He has consulted with over 130 companies on innovating with new business models, product strategies and monetization. Chris has held management positions at HP and Symantec in addition to ...
Cell networks have the advantage of long-range communications, reaching an estimated 90% of the world. But cell networks such as 2G, 3G and LTE consume lots of power and were designed for connecting people. They are not optimized for low- or battery-powered devices or for IoT applications with infrequently transmitted data. Cell IoT modules that support narrow-band IoT and 4G cell networks will enable cell connectivity, device management, and app enablement for low-power wide-area network IoT. B...
The hierarchical architecture that distributes "compute" within the network specially at the edge can enable new services by harnessing emerging technologies. But Edge-Compute comes at increased cost that needs to be managed and potentially augmented by creative architecture solutions as there will always a catching-up with the capacity demands. Processing power in smartphones has enhanced YoY and there is increasingly spare compute capacity that can be potentially pooled. Uber has successfully ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CrowdReviews.com has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 5–7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. CrowdReviews.com is a transparent online platform for determining which products and services are the best based on the opinion of the crowd. The crowd consists of Internet users that have experienced products and services first-hand and have an interest in letting other potential buye...
When talking IoT we often focus on the devices, the sensors, the hardware itself. The new smart appliances, the new smart or self-driving cars (which are amalgamations of many ‘things'). When we are looking at the world of IoT, we should take a step back, look at the big picture. What value are these devices providing. IoT is not about the devices, its about the data consumed and generated. The devices are tools, mechanisms, conduits. This paper discusses the considerations when dealing with the...