Customizing Windows 8 with the Local Group Policy Editor

If you use the Pro or Enterprise edition of Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, there will be an application on your computer called the Local Group Policy Editor. This tool provides users with a range of advanced system settings and personalisation options, most of which are not available from the control panel or by other means (other than editing the system registry). To access the Local Group Policy Editor, press the Windows key and “R” on your keyboard to bring up the Run command, type “gpedit.msc” (without quotes) and press Enter.

Under Local Computer Policy, you will see two first-level folders, each with three subfolders beneath them. The Computer Configuration folder allows you to change settings which effect all of the user accounts on your computer, while the User Configuration section allows you to modify settings which only effect the user currently logged into the computer. Most users will only need to pay attention to the Administrative Templates subfolders for making various advanced tweaks and changes to their computers or user accounts. When you browse through the subfolders within the Administrative Templates folders, you will notice that most, if not all, settings are listed as “Not configured.” This simply means that the settings are at their default values.

The following takes a look at some of the most useful settings you can change with the Local Group Policy Editor.

Preventing Access to the Windows Store and Other Apps

One of the new features of Windows 8 is the Windows Store. This app, accessible from the Start screen, allows users to purchase apps and games. However, you probably won’t want other users to be able to make unauthorized purchases, in which case you should prevent access to the feature. While you can hide the Windows Store from the Start screen, it will still be accessible from the unified search feature or from the complete list of applications on the computer. To prevent access to the store, go to the “Windows Components” section under “Administrative Tools” and open the “Store” folder. Double-click on “Turn off the Store application,” select “Disabled” and click “OK.” Note that you can do this through the Computer Configuration section to prevent access to the Windows Store on all user accounts on the computer or for the current user account by going through the User Configuration section.

The same applies to all other Windows features. You will also find these listed in the Windows Components folder. Many Windows components also provide other settings which allow advanced users to further customize the way they work.

Removing Control Panel Items

You can choose which items are shown in the Control Panel only from the User Configuration directory. Navigate to Administrative Tools > Control Panel and click on the setting in the right-side pane “Hide specific Control Panel items.”

To remove a particular Control Panel item, enable this setting and click “Show.” You will need to know the exact name of the item and then enter it by double-clicking in the “Value” field. As soon as you start typing, another box will appear where you can specify an additional item to hide. Click “OK” to save your changes.

Disabling the Lock Screen

While the lock screen saw some significant improvements with the launch of the Windows 8.1 update, some users still find it to be a completely unnecessary hindrance which only makes it take longer to get to the desktop. If you want to get rid of the lock screen entirely, you can do so by navigating to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel > Personalisation and double-clicking on “Do not display the lock screen.” Click “Enabled” and click “OK.”

Preventing the Use of Removable Storage Devices

On shared computers, it can be a good idea to prevent other users from being able to use removable storage devices such as CDs, DVDs, memory cards or USB flash drives. This will prevent people from being able to uninstall malicious software or other unwanted things on your computer. To do this, navigate to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Remove Storage Access and change the setting you require. If you want to deny all access to all removable storage devices entirely, use the “All Removable Storage classes: Deny all access” setting.

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