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Editing Local Policies
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Policies are different from preferences, and comparing the two helps you better understand how Windows XP uses policies. Users set preferences, such as their desktop wallpaper. They can change preferences any time. Administrators set policies, such as the location of the My Documents folder, and they have precedence over the equivalent user preference. Windows XP stores policies in the registry separately from user preferences. If the policy exists, the operating system uses the setting that policy specifies. If the policy doesn't exist, the operating system uses the user's preference. In the absence of the user's preference, the operating system uses a default setting. The important thing is that a policy does not change the equivalent user preference and, if they both exist at the same time, the policy has precedence. Also, if the administrator removes the policy, the user's preference is once again used. In other words, Group Policy does not tattoo the registry. (See the sidebar "Tattoos on the Registry," later in this chapter.) Table 6 1 summarizes this behavior. Tattoos on the Registry Group Policy and System Policy, policies that versions of Windows earlier than Windows 2000 use, handle changes differently. Windows XP automatically removes a GPO's settings from the registry when the GPO no longer applies to the user or computer. Also, Group Policy doesn't overwrite 128
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users' preferences. So if you delete a GPO from Active Directory, Windows XP removes that GPO's settings from the registry and reverts back to users' preferences. Likewise, if you remove an individual policy from a GPO, Windows XP removes that setting from the registry and restores users' existing preferences. Group Policy doesn't make permanent, irreversible changes to the registry. System Policy does make permanent, irreversible changes to the registry, though. In other words, it tattoos the registry. Removing System Policy leaves all the policies it contained in the registry. The only way to restore users' preferences, assuming these policies don't overwrite their preferences, is to manually remove the policy from the registry or explicitly change the setting in System Policy. This is one of the scenarios you learn to grapple with in 15, "Working Around IT Problems." One of the nastier incarnations of this behavior can occur when you upgrade from an earlier version of Windows to Windows XP. When you upgrade, policies in the registry are permanent, and you must manually remove them from the registry; Windows XP doesn't remove them automatically.
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Table 6 1: Policies Compared to Preferences Policy defined Preference defined Behavior No No Default No Yes Preference configures Yes No Policy configures Yes Yes Policy configures, ignoring the preference Windows XP combines policies together in a Group Policy object (GPO). In Active Directory, you have multiple GPOs, which apply to users and computers, depending on where they are in the directory. In Windows XP, you have only one GPO, and that's the local GPO. Settings in this GPO apply to the local computer and every user who logs on to it. Because the local GPO is the first GPO that Windows XP applies when it starts and when users log on to it, network GPOs can override settings in it. For example, if you define a local policy that enables you to install Windows Installer based programs with elevated privileges but the network administrator sets a network policy that disallows that, the network policy wins, and you won't be able to install these programs unless you're a local administrator for that computer; otherwise, you can install Windows Installer based programs no matter the group in which your account is a member. GPOs include settings for both computer configurations and user configurations. Because Group Policy settings apply to either computers or users, GPOs contain branches for each: Computer Configuration. These are per computer policy settings that specify operating system behavior, desktop behavior, security settings, computer startup and shutdown scripts, computer assigned applications, and application settings. Windows XP applies per computer policies when the operating system starts and at regular intervals. User Configuration. These are per user policy settings that specify operating system behavior, desktop settings, security settings, assigned and published applications, folder redirection settings, user logon and logoff scripts, and application settings. Windows XP applies per user policies when the user logs on to the computer and at regular intervals. You edit the local GPO using the Group Policy editor, shown in Figure 6 1. To open the Group Policy editor, type gpedit.msc in the Run dialog box. The left and right panes you see in the editor are similar to those in Registry Editor (Regedit), so I won't explain how to use them here. Immediately under Local Computer Policy, you see Computer Configuration and User 129
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Configuration. Computer Configuration contains per computer policies, and User Configuration contains per user policies. Registry based policies, this chapter's focus, are in Administrative Templates under either branch.
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Figure 6 1: The Extended and Standard view tabs are new for Windows XP. Click the Extended tab to display help for the selected policy setting. Typing gpedit.msc in the Run dialog box is the quick way to edit the local computer's GPO, but you can create your own console in Microsoft Management Console (MMC) to edit a remote computer's GPO. Editing local policies on a remote computer is useful if your organization isn't using Active Directory, but it's too cumbersome to use as a general management tool, so I'd use it in one off scenarios: 1. In the Run dialog box, type mmc, and press Enter. 2. On the File menu, click Add/Remove Snap In. 3. In the Add Standalone Snap In dialog box, on the Standalone tab, click Add. 4. Click Group Policy, and then click Add. 5. In the Select Group Policy Object dialog box, click Browse. In the Browse For A Group Policy Object dialog box, on the Computers tab, select the Another Computer option, type the remote computer's name in the space provided, and then click OK. Note Windows XP doesn't allow you to specify security settings in a remote computer's local GPO. Thus, when you open Security Settings for a remote computer, you don't see these settings. Even though you can't apply these settings to remote computers, you can include them in a disk image for deployment, which you learn more about in the section "Deploying Registry Based Policy," later in this chapter.
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