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A lot of people are unhappy with how Microsoft is handling Windows 10, so despite all of the surprisingly great reasons to upgrade 10 Surprising Reasons Why You Will Like Windows 10 10 Surprising Reasons Why You Will Like Windows 10 It's almost cool to hate on Windows 10 these days. Don't let that deprive you of all the benefits Windows 10 will bring! We show you what you're missing out on. Read More , many are fighting tooth and nail to avoid upgrading at any cost Microsoft Strikes Again - How to NOT Upgrade to Windows 10 Microsoft Strikes Again - How to NOT Upgrade to Windows 10 Windows 10 is now a recommended update on Windows 7 and 8.1 computers. If you're not yet ready to upgrade, it's time to double-check your Windows Update settings. We show you how. Read More .

The biggest complaint? Loss of control. Sure, there are some quick and useful hacks 7 Quick Tips & Hacks to Optimize Your Windows 10 Experience 7 Quick Tips & Hacks to Optimize Your Windows 10 Experience Windows 10 is more than an upgrade to Windows 8, it's an evolution. We've covered many of the big changes, but lots of minor things changed, too. Maybe we can teach you a new trick. Read More that you can try, including Taskbar customizations 7 Tips for Customizing the Windows 10 Taskbar 7 Tips for Customizing the Windows 10 Taskbar The taskbar remains a staple feature in Windows 10. It's been given a fresh look and new features, including Cortana. We show you all the tweaks to make the taskbar your own. Read More and tweaks to the Start Menu 6 Ways to Hack & Customize the Windows 10 Start Menu 6 Ways to Hack & Customize the Windows 10 Start Menu The Windows 10 Start Menu combines classic elements with modern tiles. Tiles can add a lot of creative freedom. We'll give you tips and reveal tricks for customizing the entire Start Menu to your preferences. Read More , but these just aren’t enough. Microsoft has taken away too many options.

One way around all of this is to use the Group Policy feature. If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t worry. It may be powerful, but it’s simple to understand. Keep reading to find out how you can start taking advantage of it now.

What Is Windows Group Policy?

Group Policy provides a centralized way to manage and configure all kinds of settings across all computers on a given Active Directory network. The settings are maintained by a domain controller and individual computers can’t override those settings.

However, computers that aren’t on an Active Directory network can still have their settings tweaked locally using the Local Group Policy.

windows-10-group-policy-editor

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Think of it like Control Panel, except a hundred times 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.

In actuality, most of these changes to settings are little more than tweaks to the Windows Registry 5 Windows 10 Registry Tweaks to Improve & Unlock Features 5 Windows 10 Registry Tweaks to Improve & Unlock Features The registry editor is the only way to enable some of Windows 10's hidden features. Here we'll show you easy tweaks like enabling the dark theme or hiding folders. Read More . It’s just that the Group Policy Editor provides an easy-to-use interface for managing all of those tweaks without having to manually scour the registry.

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The one downside is that — natively (more on alternatives below) — Group Policy is only available to computers running Professional, Enterprise, or Education editions of Windows. If you’re on Windows Home, this feature alone may convince you to upgrade to Windows Pro Is a Windows 10 Pro Upgrade Worth $99? Is a Windows 10 Pro Upgrade Worth $99? Windows 10 Pro offers more features, but also carries a $99 price tag to upgrade from the Home edition. Here's what you need to know to decide if professional features are worth the upgrade. Read More .

Thinking about it? Check out our step-by-step guide that has everything you need to know about upgrading from Home to Pro How to Upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Professional Edition How to Upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Professional Edition Windows 10 Home users are missing several subtle features. Pro users, for example, can temporarily defer Windows updates. We show you how you can upgrade to the Pro edition to regain some control over Windows... Read More .

Accessing the Group Policy Editor

Accessing the Group Policy Editor is easier than you think, especially on Windows 10. As with most things in Windows, there are multiple ways to access it. Here’s the fastest way, which is the method I prefer:

  • Open the Start Menu.
  • Search for Edit group policy.
  • Launch it!

I know I said earlier that Group Policy isn’t available on Home editions of Windows, but there is a workaround you can try if you don’t want to pay for an upgrade. It involves some basic system tweaks and the installation of a third-party Group Policy Editor.

If you’re interested, check out our step-by-step guide to installing the Group Policy Editor on Windows Home How to Access the Group Policy Editor, Even in Windows Home & Settings to Try How to Access the Group Policy Editor, Even in Windows Home & Settings to Try Group Policy is a power tool that lets you access advanced system settings. We'll show you how to access it or set it up in Windows Home and 5+ powerful Group Policies to boot. Read More .

Useful Group Policy Tips and Tricks

The Group Policy Editor allows you to change thousands of different options, preferences, and settings, so it would be impossible to cram all of them into this single article.

It’s probably best if you DON’T experiment with the Group Police Editor. One bad tweak could render your system inoperable. However, here are several safe tweaks that you may want to implement right away.

1. Restrict Access to Control Panel

Control Panel restrictions are integral for business networks and school enviroments, but they can also be useful in the home for computers shared between multiple users when you want master control over everything.

To completely block the Control Panel altogether:

User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel > Prohibit access to Control Panel and PC Settings

But if you want semi-access to only certain parts of the Control Panel, you can set that up too using one of the two following settings:

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 by using the canonical names provided by Microsoft.

2. Restrict Access to Command Prompt

Despite how useful the Command Prompt can be 15 CMD Commands Every Windows User Should Know 15 CMD Commands Every Windows User Should Know The command prompt is an antiquated tool from an era of text-based input. But some commands remain useful and Windows 8 even added new features. Find out which ones. Read More , it can also be a nuisance in the wrong hands, allowing users to run undesirable commands and circumventing other restrictions you might have in place. As such, you should probably disable it.

To disable the Command Prompt:

User Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Prevent access to the command prompt

Note that enabling this restriction means that cmd.exe can’t be run at all — even during the execution of batch files in either .cmd or .bat formats Dip Your Toes in Batch File Programming for Windows Dip Your Toes in Batch File Programming for Windows Why do you let simple, repetitive tasks bore you? If you can't delegate, innovate! With Windows you can create simple little programs, called batch files, that will take care of these tiresome tasks. Read More .

3. Prevent Software Installations

There are many ways to block users from installing new software How to Block Users from Installing Software on Your Windows Computer How to Block Users from Installing Software on Your Windows Computer "Resistance is futile...." is not something you'll want to hear from a PC. When too many people access your computer, it's best to restrict the Windows Installer. We show you how. Read More , which can help reduce the amount of cleaning and maintenance you need to do when careless users on the network inevitably install something bad.

To prevent software installations using Group Policy:

Computer Configurations > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Installer > Turn off Windows Installer

4. Prevent or Delay Windows Update

Forced updates Pros & Cons of Forced Updates in Windows 10 Pros & Cons of Forced Updates in Windows 10 Updates will change in Windows 10. Right now you can pick and choose. Windows 10, however, will force updates onto you. It has advantages, like improved security, but it can also go wrong. What's more... Read More are a highly controversial Windows 10 feature, but only you can decide how you feel about it and whether to disable them or not 5 Unintended Consequences of Windows 10 Upgradegate 5 Unintended Consequences of Windows 10 Upgradegate Microsoft is ruining everything with Windows 10. The upgrade disaster has unintended consequences for Microsoft and its customers. We talk about how Microsoft's tactics violate user trust and decreases security, among other issues. Read More .

If you have Group Policy, then you also have the ability to defer big updates and upgrades for up to one year or pause them altogether:

Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Update > Defer Upgrades and Updates

Deferments can be indicated using months and weeks. Or you can select the checkbox labeled “Pause Upgrades and Updates”, which will turn them off until the next big update rolls around.

As it turns out, the Group Policy plays an important part in managing your Windows Update settings How to Manage Windows Update in Windows 10 How to Manage Windows Update in Windows 10 For control freaks, Windows Update is a nightmare. It's designed to operate in the background, automatically keeping your system safe and running smoothly. We show you how it works and what you can customize. Read More , but it isn’t the only way. Check out these other ways to turn off Windows Update 5 Ways to Temporarily Turn Off Windows Update in Windows 10 5 Ways to Temporarily Turn Off Windows Update in Windows 10 Windows Update keeps your system patched and safe. In Windows 10 you're at the mercy of Microsoft's schedule, unless you know hidden settings and tweaks. We'll help you keep Windows Update under control. Read More .

5. Disable Forced Restarts

Assuming you’ve kept Windows Update enabled, one huge annoyance that you’ve probably run into more than once is the fact that Windows pesters you to reboot after updating. You can postpone up to a point, but eventually it’s out of your hands.

To disable these forced restarts:

Computer Configuration > Administrator Templates > Windows Components > Windows Update > No auto-restart with logged on users for scheduled automatic update installations

Once the setting is enabled, you’ll have to reboot your system (funny, I know) or you can just launch an elevated Command Prompt and run the following command:

gpupdate /force

This forces any changes made to your Group Policy to take effect.

6. Disable Automatic Driver Updates

Here’s yet another automated feature that Windows will run without your explicit knowledge or permission: driver updates. In theory, this is quite useful as it aims to keep your system as up-to-date as possible.

But what if you’re running a custom driver? Or what if the latest driver for a certain hardware component has a bug that causes your particular system to crash? These are times when automatic driver updates can frustrate you to no end.

To disable automatic driver updates:

Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Device Installation > Device Installation Restrictions > Prevent installation of devices that match any of these device IDs

For this to work, you’ll have to provide hardware IDs for the devices you don’t want automatic driver updates for. You can get these through the Device Manager, which you can do using these step-by-step instructions Take Back Control Over Driver Updates in Windows 10 Take Back Control Over Driver Updates in Windows 10 A bad Windows driver can ruin your day. In Windows 10, Windows Update automatically updates hardware drivers. If you suffer the consequences, let us show you how to roll back your driver and block future... Read More .

If you ever experience system instability or other issues due to a driver update, use the built-in Windows feature for driver rollbacks. It’s a good feature to know because one day it will save you a TON of headaches.

7. Disable Removable Media Drives

Are you the kind of person who would find a random USB drive on the ground, take it home, and plug it in to see what was on it? Probably not, but I’m sure you know someone who would do that!

The bad news is that randomly-found USB drives can be dangerous Why USB Sticks Are Dangerous & How To Protect Yourself Why USB Sticks Are Dangerous & How To Protect Yourself USB drives are so pervasive in today’s world of technology, but when they first debuted, they revolutionized data exchange. The first USB flash drives had an 8MB capacity, which isn't much by today’s standards, but... Read More , which is why you might want to disable them altogether — especially in a business office setting. One malware-infected USB drive could bring down the whole network.

To disable removable media drives:

User Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Removable Storage Access > Removable Disks: Deny read access

You’ll also see options for things like CDs, DVDs, WPD devices, and even floppy drives. Feel free to disable all of these as well, but USB drives are the main concern.

8. Turn Off Consumer Experience Promotions

It’s well known that Microsoft is collecting data from you Is Microsoft Gathering Data From You in Windows 7 and 8? Is Microsoft Gathering Data From You in Windows 7 and 8? You haven't upgraded to Windows 10 because you're worried about privacy? Microsoft has released a series of updates for Windows 7 and 8.1 that introduce similar diagnostics tracking. The good news is, you can remove... Read More , but until recently it was mostly for usability improvements and other practical benefits. With Windows 10, things went one step further with the Microsoft Consumer Experience.

Long story short, the Consumer Experience delivers personalized recommendations and notifications to you based on the data that Microsoft collects. The next time you see an ad in your Start Menu How to Ban Windows 10 Ads & NSFW Content from Your Desktop How to Ban Windows 10 Ads & NSFW Content from Your Desktop Windows 10 may be crossing a line with desktop ads and NSFW content. Microsoft and third-party developers can push promotional material directly onto your desktop. We show you how you can defend yourself. Read More , this is why.

To disable the Consumer Experience:

Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Cloud Content > Turn off Microsoft consumer experiences

9. Turn Off Balloon and Toast Notifications

Desktop notifications can be handy, but only when they have something useful to say. Unfortunately, most of the notifications shown by Windows aren’t worth reading, and at worst can distract you and break concentration 5 Distracting Desktop Notifications & How To Turn Them Off [Windows] 5 Distracting Desktop Notifications & How To Turn Them Off [Windows] When you are working on a computer, it takes a fair bit of will power to resist the attempt to multitask. But even if you manage to restrain yourself, many programs manage to throw in... Read More .

Here’s how to disable balloon notifications:

User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Start Menu and Taskbar > Turn off all balloon notifications

But starting with Windows 8, most system notifications switched over to toast notifications, so you might want to disable them instead:

User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Start Menu and Taskbar > Notifications > Turn off toast notifications

Either way, this is an easy way to kiss those distractions goodbye.

10. Turn Off and Hide OneDrive

Yet another way in which Microsoft tries to force people down a certain path is the persistent pushing of users towards OneDrive. It’s baked into the operating system and you can’t disable it without Group Policy or the Registry Editor.

Disable OneDrive by enabling this:

Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > OneDrive > Prevent the usage of OneDrive for file storage

This will remove the ability to access OneDrive from anywhere on the system, and it will remove the OneDrive shortcut in the sidebar of File Explorer. If it doesn’t work, try the alternative method for disabling OneDrive How to Disable & Replace OneDrive in Windows 10 How to Disable & Replace OneDrive in Windows 10 OneDrive is deeply integrated in Windows 10 and Microsoft might tell you that removing it is not possible. Well, not unless you're willing to dig deep. We show you how to extract OneDrive from Windows... Read More .

11. Turn Off Windows Defender

In Windows 10 Home, the only way to disable Windows Defender is to install a compatible third-party security suite How to Manually Disable Windows Defender in Windows 10 Home How to Manually Disable Windows Defender in Windows 10 Home Want to disable Windows Defender in Windows 10 Home without messing with the registry? Here's how to do that! Read More . In editions of Windows 10 that support Group Policy, however, you can disable it without installing anything else.

To disable Windows Defender for good:

Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Defender > Turn off Windows Defender

That being said, we still recommend that you use a free security suite 5 Best Free Internet Security Suites for Windows 5 Best Free Internet Security Suites for Windows Which security suite do you trust the most? We look at five of the best free security suites for Windows, all of which offer anti-virus, anti-malware, and real-time protection features. Read More to maximize your protection against malware, viruses, etc. If not, at least install a one-time malware scanner Make Sure You're Clean With These Free One-Time Scan Antivirus Tools [Windows] Make Sure You're Clean With These Free One-Time Scan Antivirus Tools [Windows] It sucks to be constantly bombarded by computer-related threats, whether they’re spyware, malware, viruses, keyloggers, or whatever else. A popular way to combat this problem is to install an antivirus solution that sits in the... Read More that you can run monthly.

12. Run Scripts at Logon/Startup/Shutdown

This last tip is a bit more advanced and probably won’t be useful unless you’re comfortable with batch files and/or writing PowerShell scripts Boost Your Productivity With Windows PowerShell Scripts Boost Your Productivity With Windows PowerShell Scripts What if you could bring the productivity of Linux over to Windows? Most Linux distros come packaged with the powerful Bash shell. PowerShell is an equally powerful terminal for Windows. Read More . But if you are, then you can actually run said scripts automatically.

To set up a startup/shutdown script:

Computer Configuration > Windows Settings > Scripts (Startup/Shutdown)

To set up a logon/logoff script:

User Configuration > Windows Settings > Scripts (Logon/Logoff)

Doing this lets you select the actual script files and provide parameters for those scripts, so it’s pretty flexible in terms of what you can do. And, of course, you can assign multiple scripts to each trigger event.

Note that this isn’t the same as launching a specific program on startup. If you want to do that, then you’ll need to use this nifty Windows trick that few know about 9 Simple Tricks You Didn't Know Were Possible in Windows 9 Simple Tricks You Didn't Know Were Possible in Windows Windows has many simple tricks up its sleeve that are easily overlooked. Everything we show you here is native to Windows, no gimmicks. How many of these do you know? Read More .

Take Back Control of Your Windows PC

If you feel beaten by Windows 10, don’t be. As we’ve shown, there’s a LOT you can control under the hood as long as you have access to the Group Policy feature. Is it enough of a reason to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro? We think so.

Other ways to take back control of your Windows PC include mastering all of the different settings How to Control Windows 10: The Settings Guide How to Control Windows 10: The Settings Guide The Windows control panel is on its way out. Its replacement, the Settings app, has received a significant upgrade in Windows 10. We'll reveal all its secrets for you. Read More , knowing everything that Control Panel can do Unlock Windows Potential: Control Panel Demystified Unlock Windows Potential: Control Panel Demystified If you want to be the master of your Windows experience, the Control Panel is where it's at. We untangle the complexity of this power tool. Read More , and exploring the hidden features of Windows 10 Under the Hood: 6 Hidden Windows 10 Features You Can Unlock Under the Hood: 6 Hidden Windows 10 Features You Can Unlock Windows 10 is full of secrets and surprises. Some new features are just not very well known, yet. Here are six tips for customizing your Windows 10 experience. Read More .

How do you use Group Policy to your benefit? Any other nifty tricks we missed? Is it worth upgrading just to get Group Policy? Let us know in a comment below!

  1. Andy
    July 31, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Please note that from the Anniversary Update onwards, it appears Microsoft will be removing the ability of Windows 10 Pro users to toggle some of the Group Policy options, such as turning off the 1984-inspired "Microsoft consumer experience" - see http://winaero.com/blog/microsoft-locks-some-group-policy-options-to-enterprise-editions-in-windows-10-anniversary-update/ for more details

  2. Alan Wade
    July 20, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    All of which can be acheived through the registry without the need to spend quite a few pounds to upgrade from Home to Pro which is expensive for a couple of tweaks.

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