12 Ways Windows Group Policy Can Make Your PC Better
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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, many are fighting tooth and nail to avoid upgrading at any cost.

The biggest complaint? Loss of control. Sure, there are some quick and useful hacks that you can try, 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 Windows Group Policy: What Is It and How to Use It Windows Group Policy: What Is It and How to Use It Wondering what Group Policy is or how to access the Group Policy Editor? Here's an overview of this important Windows feature. Read More 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.

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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 How to Open the Local Group Policy Editor in Windows 10 How to Open the Local Group Policy Editor in Windows 10 Need to know how to access a local Group Policy Editor window? We show you how to open this and what to do once inside. Read More 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 environments, 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, 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, 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 are a highly controversial Windows 10 feature, but only you can decide how you feel about it and whether to disable them or not.

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 works in the background, and keeps 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 7 Ways to Temporarily Turn Off Windows Update in Windows 10 7 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. So, 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, 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, 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, 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.

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. 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 to maximize your protection against malware, viruses, etc. If not, at least install a one-time malware scanner 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. 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 , 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!

Explore more about: Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows Customization.

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  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. Anonymous
    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.