Tips – Finding the right Group Policy setting

UPDATED – see below for info on the new Group Policy Search web app

Now Windows Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) is nearing the end of it’s beta process it won’t be long before SysAdmins will be deploying it out across their networks. Something that occurs with any new Microsoft software is the need to update Group Policy to control any new features and lock down as appropriate. I thought I’d share a few tips on how I find discover and configure these new settings.

It seems that with each new Administrative template (ADMX) there are an ever-increasing amount of settings that can be managed (Over 1500 for IE9 alone!). While great for security it can be a headache to navigate. Microsoft usually lists the group policy settings for each product on the TechNet site, like this page for IE9, but did you know there is also an MSDN website (hosted on Azure) called Group Policy Search. This is a godsend policy administrators because not only does it allow you to search the contents of all the Microsoft Windows & Office policies but it also gives you the info like what the policy is supported on and even the registry key that the policy changes. This is a great place to copy details if you need to report to a manager on what a certain setting can do.

Group Policy Search Cloud App
Group Policy Search Cloud App

 This site does work on smartphones but I can see this working really well as a reference app on a mobile device. UPDATE: I just found that somebody has made this into an app for Windows Phone 7/8. Find it in the web store or search on your phones marketplace for Group Policy Search. Now it’s up to another dev to make one for Android and iPhone!

If you use Windows 7/Server 2008 R2, or later, you can also download a Search Connector (from the site’s Settings menu). This lets you search the Group Policy Search website from Windows Explorer, giving you an excerpt of the description and link to the relevant webpage. UPDATE: Unfortunately, due to the change of host for the web app, the connector is broken. Luckily, it is easily fixed by editing the OSDX file. Download the GroupPolicySearch.osdx connector from the site and open with a text editor. Change line 5 to the code below, save and then double-click the file to install to your userprofile/Searches folder

<Url type="application/rss+xml" template="http://gpsearch.azurewebsites.net/gps/rss.ashx?search={searchTerms}"/>
Group Policy Search Connector
Group Policy Search Connector in Windows 7

Another task that becomes complicated is to find settings you have previously changed. I may open up the Group Policy Editor knowing I need to modify a previous setting change but it can be like finding a needle in a haystack digging through all the non-configured settings. You can find it via a report in the Group Policy Management console but did you know you can also filter policies in the editor? Go to the View menu and choose Filter Options. Here you can set up a number of criteria on what you want to see. I typically would change it to only show configured settings and also any policy with my initials in the comments. This makes it really easy to see the changes I have made and adjust them appropriately.

Group Policy Filtering
Group Policy Filtering

I hope that’s given you a bit of help in discovering and managing group policy settings. Let me know your tips in the comments.

UPDATE: I discovered this great page in the increasingly useful TechNet Wiki – Group Policy Survival Guide. It contains links to anything and everything to do with Group Policy

Testing blogging capabilities – Word 2010 versus Windows Live Writer 2011

I was wondering if Word 2010 would be a better blog editor than Windows Live Writer 2011 (WLW).

I constantly find myself using Word/Office keyboard shortcuts in WLW only to get annoyed that they don’t work.

This is really just a quick test to see the pros & cons and what features actually work. It may look a complete mess once I upload it!

Setting up Word 2010 to blog is really easy

  1. File>New>Blog post
  2. Select WordPress (or another host)
  3. Enter Blog URL and user credentials

Pros (if they work!)

Picture Editing

Photo of me with background removal tool and artistic pencil effect

Smart Art

Word Art

This is written using a special font on my PC.
If Word is clever it will change it into a picture

Cons

  • Only supports categories, not tags (can always do that after from WordPress dashboard)
  • No support for WLW plug-ins
  • No preview option/theme support

Time to publish and see what happens!

Update

OK, so after hitting the publish button I can see a few niggles but nothing major.

  • The photo of me came out properly but before I published it was overlapping the right of the toolbar image.
  • Smart Art and Word Art came out identically (converted to images).
  • The custom font underneath the word art came out in the bigger size and displayed properly on my PC but returns to the default when viewed from a PC where it isn’t installed
  • Basic formatting (like highlight, bold, italics, h1, h2) all worked

Overall, I think Word gives you a lot more power, not to mention better performance, than Windows Live Writer. It could be improved in the way it handles the whole blogging side of things (e.g. hyperlinkng to live articles, updating existing posts, source code editing). Ideally I would want it to have all the features of WLW (or vice versa!) but I can use the WordPress dashboard to easily fine tune things.

I think I will probably use it for all my posts for a while and see how it goes. If you’ve got it, flaunt it!

Creating custom Windows 7 RSS Dynamic Themes

personalizeThis is old news but is something I could never get to work, until now!

Windows users have always enjoyed customising their Desktop with new icons, cursors, sounds, wallpapers and even title bar colours. One of the problems is that you can easily get bored with staring at the same picture everyday. Windows 7 includes the option to have a slideshow of pictures rather than one static image but even that can be cumbersome to keep fresh. One way around this is to use images supplied by RSS. If you aren’t familiar with RSS then you can check out the info here but basically it’s a way of getting automatic website updates. This can be seen in the Bing Dynamic theme provided on Microsoft’s Personalization website.

Continue reading Creating custom Windows 7 RSS Dynamic Themes

Offline Files versus VPN a.k.a. The case of the missing “Work Online” button

I have been having a nightmare of an issue lately with Offline Files and the Windows 7 Sync Center.

Offline Files is a very handy issue for people who work with laptops or who are regularly disconnected from the company network. The feature allows a seamless cache of you network files that can be accessed and modified when you are not connected to the Local Area Network (LAN). Then, when you are next in the office, or connected via a VPN, all modified files are synchronised with the file servers and any conflicts can be resolved. The feature is present in Windows XP but it isn’t the most efficient process and was modified in Windows Vista with the introduction of the Sync Center. This is basically a dashboard for Offline Files as well as Windows Mobile phones. The background process was also further refined in Windows 7. It was this refinement that broke our systems!

Read on for more info and the solution…

Continue reading Offline Files versus VPN a.k.a. The case of the missing “Work Online” button