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Microsoft is offering their users a piece of free magic software, called SteadyState. We have all been there late at night and our virtual guard is down. Maybe you hopped on an unsecured network and decided to browse some hardcore porn sites bit torrent trackers um er let’s just say some not so reputable sites. Either way you have exposed your machine to a potentially bad neighborhood and if your protection on your machine isn’t up to snuff then who knows what could have happened already!

But now let’s say you downloaded Microsoft’s new 6.3MB SteadyState program for XP or Vista. You can go ahead and fire it up and configure how you want it to interact with your Operating System. Think of it like free virtualization with some security features thrown in.

The features that stand out are:

    Windows Disk Protection

    This is the main feature that will help keep your machine spic and span. It does not allow changes to be made to your system – This includes your Operating System, Program Files and your Personal Files. Windows SteadyState gives you the option to remove all changes upon restart, to remove changes at a certain point in time, or to not remove changes at all. As you can see below the changes live in a cache and are not merged with the operating system (unless you want them to!)

    Windows Disk Protection

    User Restrictions and Settings

    The options contained in here resemble group policy and allow you to lock down many facets of the Operating System including which programs are accessible and if and when changes are to be discarded.

    User Restrictions and Settings

    User Account Manager

    Create and delete SteadyState user accounts. They can be on external drives that can facilitate user’s data and settings being saved even when Windows Disk Protection is turned on. There are import and export features that allow you to move your SteadyState users around.

    User Account Manager

    Computer Restrictions

    This is also like group policy settings and very similar to the User Restrictions but based only on the machine.Computer Restrictions

Now how does all this help you?

I am glad you asked!


Let’s take our example of late night shenanigans again and this time before we start our adult oriented surfing we’ll start up SteadyState. No more worrying about harming your machine or having your personal data sold on the back corners of the net. Aren’t you sick of worrying about computer security? Don’t you have more important things to worry about?

We do and trust you me it’s not just porn!

After your surfing is concluded, reboot the machine and watch as all remnants of your web session are automagically gone. No toolbars, shortcuts, history or even installed applications are left behind to sell you out to your significant other (or parents) and best of all everything you were doing was in a secure place that had access to your personal data or your operating system! SWEET!

Let’s take a look at how it actually works:

You start by configuring what you want to lock down, creating a user and then protecting your hard drive. It creates a cache file. This cache file is where all your changes are made to. Then by selecting the correct option you can make everything return to the way it was simply by restarting!

There is a lot to SteadyState and it is an invaluable tool that I am testing out this week and possibly deploying for a handful of publicly accessible machines! If you have a need for this tool give it a shot and let us know what you think in the comments!

Maybe you use something similar or the old Microsoft® Shared Computer Toolkit for Windows XP – let us know! Come let’s get a heated discussion going on why or why you don’t need something like this!

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  1. DoktorThomas™
    January 10, 2015 at 3:54 am

    I don't see SteadyState available. Link goes to MSFT general site.

  2. irha
    April 26, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    steadystate requires the system partition to be ntfs, where as returnil supports fat32 as well.

  3. squalo
    July 8, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    Yes, nice. New software from MS! And guess what, it doesn't support 64 bit OSes (XP or Vista).

    No wonder there's no 64 bit support. Not even M$ cares about it, they just code stuff for 32 bit.

    That and the lack of multi-core support in Applications makes me wonder why did I sell my P4.

    • AskTheAdmin | Karl Gechlik
      July 10, 2008 at 2:46 pm

      That is a whole different story! The market share of 32 vs 64 is such a huge upset in favor of the 32 bit - so are you really surprised that all the MS free software is pointed towards 32 bit machines? People that shell out more money for a 64bit OS surely can throw some more money out for virtualization!

  4. iheart
    July 7, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    @Karl L. Gechlik : so yes, steadystate has lots of customization.
    but what about,if you dont have to secure your computer, but just then and there, want to try out some new freeware or demoware, without using restoring point or such, and otherwise, you are the only person using your comp?
    Isnt returnil, with less options, better for the unexperienced user, who doesnt need too many customization?

    • Karl L. Gechlik
      July 7, 2008 at 2:07 pm

      Agreed less options are great for the inexperienced user... But most of MakeUseOf's reader base wants more options to tweak more stuff. And for just testing apps Sandboxie is excellent as well as VirtualPC or VMware.

      As I always say - "The right tool for the right job!"

  5. Kelly
    July 7, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Seems like a tacit admission that Windows (including Vista) can't be controlled, contained or configured without additional software. In other words, out of the box it's *unsteady*. So add this software, and now there's more potential exposure surface in which security holes will be found that will need to be patched. Wouldn't it be nice if Microsoft could design something well the first time? And I mean without doubling the disk footprint and tripling the hardware requirements...

    • Karl L. Gechlik
      July 7, 2008 at 11:09 am

      I figured this was going to be one of the first comments! But no this does not make Windows more "Steady" or "Sturdy" it just gives you a method to control other users modifying your system.

      I am a Microsoft hater and lover in the same breathe.. But for shit sure this is a wonderful product that is free. Most other programs that do this are costly. As mentioned above Returnil has a free option and a ($25) option but neither comes close to the amount of customization you can really do with SteadyState.


  6. nyne
    July 7, 2008 at 7:58 am

    returnil has a free personal edition that i have been using for quite sometime with satisfaction

    • Karl L. Gechlik
      July 7, 2008 at 9:39 am

      How does it compare with all these settings MS offers with their free version Nyne?

  7. I
    July 6, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    It's like Sandboxie for the entire computer instead of for just trying out one new app!

  8. Karl L. Gechlik
    July 6, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Heart this is totally free and has tons of options to lock down everythig. Returnil I believe is a retail app.

  9. heart
    July 6, 2008 at 9:33 am

    and this software is different from what I am currently using, returnil , how ?
    or do they both do the same?

  10. Tina
    July 6, 2008 at 5:05 am

    Awesome application, thanks for the review Karl!

  11. Ken Burkes
    July 5, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    I have used SteadyState before and I really like reverting back to my original settings. This way, I can let others use my PC without having to worry about weird things popping up all over the place. It really is a great tool to use, especially if you're paranoid about going on the wrong sites.

    I'm also pretty sure that a lot of students out there will be frustrated by this. When I was in high school, our Computer Admin has SteadyState wired to every computer at the school, which meant that there wasn't much people could do to screw up the computer. Sure, you could download creepy things but as soon as the computer was restarted, all that work was for nothing. As you can guess, high school was a bit quiet for me. Darn you SteadyState...

    This is for all those Podcast lovers out there. Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson have done a great podcast on SteadyState for Security Now! You can check it out here.